Oklahoma attorneys say execution method is constitutional

Mar 7, 2022, 5:35 PM | Updated: 7:08 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The three-drug lethal injection method Oklahoma uses is constitutional and is unlikely to lead to inmates experiencing much pain before they die, Oklahoma’s solicitor general told a federal judge on Monday.

Mithun Mansinghani told U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot that the four lethal injections the state has carried out since October “are definitive proof that the protocol works as intended.”

Attorneys for 28 Oklahoma death row inmates are challenging the state’s three-drug protocol, arguing that the first drug administered, the sedative midazolam, is not enough to render the inmate unable to feel the terror and pain they would experience from the second two drugs, one that paralyzes them and a final drug that stops the heart.

James Stronski, an attorney for the inmates, told Friot that if inmates aren’t properly anaesthetized, they would be paralyzed and unable to move or speak after the second drug is administered and then feel excruciating pain as the final drug, potassium chloride is injected to stop the heart.

“If this is allowed to continue… this is a 21st Century burning at the stake,” Stronski said.

The two attorneys made the arguments during the closing of a six-day trial before Friot, who isn’t expected to issue a ruling in the case for several weeks. During the trial, each side presented experts in anesthesiology and pharmacology who offered differing opinions on the effectiveness of midazolam in rendering an inmate unable to feel pain.

Among those who testified at the trial for the state is Oklahoma City anesthesiologist Dr. Ervin Yen, a former Republican state senator and current independent candidate for governor who has witnessed three recent executions as an expert for the state. He maintains the dose of midazolam is sufficient to render an inmate unconscious and unable to feel pain.

Both sides acknowledge there is little evidence studying the effects of a 500-miligram dose of midazolam, the amount Oklahoma uses in its protocol, which is more than ten times the doses typically used to help anaesthetize patients.

Attorneys for the inmates argue the state should remove the paralytic from the protocol and add a large dose of an opioid to ensure inmates are sufficiently unconscious. They also argued a firing squad, which is among the methods authorized under Oklahoma law, would be more humane than the current method.

Oklahoma resumed lethal injections in October with the execution of John Grant, who convulsed on the gurney and vomited before being declared dead. Since then, three more executions have been carried out without noticeable complications.

All 28 death row plaintiffs have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to have execution dates scheduled if Friot rules that the current protocol is constitutional.

Oklahoma once had one of the busiest death chambers in the country, executing more than 100 inmates since resuming executions in 1990. But all executions were put on hold in 2015 after a botched lethal injection in 2014 and drug mix-ups that led to one inmate being executed with the wrong drug. Another inmate was just moments away from being led to the death chamber before prison officials realized the same wrong drug had been delivered for his execution.

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Oklahoma attorneys say execution method is constitutional