Oklahoma court agrees to 6-month stay of execution

SEAN MURPHY
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed Thursday to a six-month stay of execution for a death row inmate while an investigation is conducted into last week’s botched lethal injection.

The court reset the execution date of inmate Charles Warner to Nov. 13. Warner’s attorneys requested the delay, and state Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a court filing Thursday he wouldn’t object.

While the stay only applies to Warner, the attorney general and governor have said Oklahoma will not carry out any executions until the investigation is finished, which is expected to take at least eight weeks.

“If the state is allowed to enforce the ultimate penalty of death, it is incumbent upon this court to allow the state the time necessary to ensure that the penalty is carried out in a constitutionally sound manner,” Justice Charles Johnson wrote in a specially concurring opinion.

Warner was scheduled to be executed the same night as Clayton Lockett last week in what would have been the state’s first double execution since 1937. But Lockett’s vein collapsed during his lethal injection, prompting prison officials to halt the execution. He later died of a heart attack.

Gov. Mary Fallin then issued a two-week stay of execution for Warner, but his attorneys asked for a six-month delay. Pruitt’s office agreed in a motion filed with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Should additional time be needed for the implementation of any changes or adjustments, the state will request it,” Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham wrote.

The investigation into Lockett’s botched execution is expected to take between eight and 12 weeks and will include an autopsy and toxicology tests on Lockett, said Capt. George Brown, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which is conducting the probe.

Lockett writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth, lifted his head several times and moaned before dying of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of his execution. A doctor inside the death chamber during the execution reported that Lockett’s vein collapsed and some of the lethal drugs were absorbed into his tissue or leaked out. It was the first time the state had used the sedative midazolam as the first in a three-drug lethal injection protocol.

The curtains allowing witnesses to view the execution were closed about 16 minutes into the lethal injection, after Lockett had been showing signs of distress for several minutes. The director of the state’s prison system, Robert Patton, then called off the execution, but Lockett died about 10 minutes later.

Patton released a report saying Lockett had an intravenous tap placed at his groin because suitable veins couldn’t be found elsewhere in his body. That vein collapsed, and Patton said Lockett didn’t have another viable one — and that the state didn’t have another dose of the drugs available.

Patton has called for an “indefinite stay” while the state reviews its execution procedures and trains its staff on new protocols.

Warner’s attorneys said in a statement they were “greatly relieved” the court granted the stay.

“Before any new execution can take place, Oklahoma needs ample time to review and revise its protocol and fully train its staff,” attorneys Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day said in a statement. “The extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection that led to Mr. Lockett’s agonizing death must be replaced with transparency in order to ensure that executions are legal and humane.”

Lockett and Warner had sued the state for refusing to disclose details about the execution drugs, but the state Supreme Court later dismissed the inmates’ claim.

Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999. Warner was convicted of raping and killing his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter in Oklahoma City in 1997.

Attorneys for Lockett and Warner are among those who have criticized Fallin for tapping one of her cabinet members, Secretary of Safety and Security Michael Thompson, to head up the investigation. Thompson is a former Department of Corrections employee and witnessed Lockett’s execution.

In a separate court filing on Thursday, the attorney general asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to schedule the execution of another Oklahoma death row inmate, Richard Glossip, whose final appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court was denied earlier this week.

While the state typically asks the court to schedule the execution 60 days after the final appeal is denied, the attorney general’s office asked the court to consider the ongoing investigation before it sets Glossip’s execution date.

Fallin has said that while she is willing to delay Warner’s execution until the investigation is finished, she remains a supporter of the death penalty and believes a majority of Oklahomans also support it.

“Charles Warner had his day in court,” Fallin said last week. “He committed a horrible crime: the physical abuse, rape and murder of an 11-month-old infant. His fellow Oklahomans have sentenced him to death, and we expect that sentence to be carried out as required by law.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .

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