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Oklahoma sets 7 execution dates after 6-year hiatus

Sept. 20 (UPI) -- The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday scheduled the executions of seven men, setting the stage for the state to carry out its first lethal injection in more than six years.

The seven executions are scheduled to take place within less than a five-month span starting in late October. Among the death row prisoners with execution dates are John Grant on Oct. 28; Julius Jones on Nov. 18; Bigler Jobe "B.J." Stouffer on Dec. 9; Wade Lay on Jan. 6; Donald Grant on Jan. 27; Gilbert Postelle on Feb. 17; and James Coddington on March 10.

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Amanda Bass, an attorney for Jones, criticized the court for setting her client's execution date despite the fact that the Oklahoma Board of Pardon and Parole recommended his sentence be commuted to life in prison Sept. 13.

"The request is now on Governor [Kevin] Stitt's desk. Given the setting of a November 18 execution date, it is our hope the governor adopts the Board's recommendation and commutes Julius's death sentence. Oklahoma must not allow an innocent man to be executed," she said in a statement sent to UPI.

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The state announced Feb. 13, 2020, that it planned to resume executions years after the use of an incorrect drug led to the botched execution of a convicted murderer.

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Stitt said that after mulling the option of using nitrogen gas to cary out executions, the state has now found a "reliable supply of drugs" to resume lethal injections.

Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol came under scrutiny in 2014 when Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack amid complications during his execution.

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Autopsy reports released a year later indicated Oklahoma corrections officials used the wrong drug -- potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride -- during the process. Lockett complained of a burning sensation and attempted to raise his head and speak after doctors declared he was unconscious.

The same incorrect drug was delivered to corrections officials for use in the planned 2015 execution of Richard Glossip. Former Gov. Mary Ballin called off Glossip's execution with a last-minute, indefinite stay after she learned of the discrepancy.

Oklahoma has carried out only one other execution since Lockett's, that of Charles Warner in January 2015. He received a nine-month stay due to the previous botched lethal injection.

Since then, the state had an unofficial moratorium on executions as it attempted to secure a supply of lethal injection drugs. Oklahoma uses a three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

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Executions in the United States have undergone changes in recent years after states started running out of the essential lethal injection drug pentobarbital. The European Union in 2011 voted to prohibit the sale of the drug and seven other barbiturates to the United States for use in torture or executions. Other pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs for lethal injection purposes outright, and some will only sell if their name is kept confidential.

Now states are being forced to use new drug cocktails, scramble to restock their stores of drugs and review their lethal injection policies.

In 2018, Oklahoma's attorney general's office announced it would use nitrogen gas inhalation as its primary method of execution. Officials, though, had difficulty finding a manufacturer to sell a method for administering the gas for an execution. Additionally, state law says nitrogen hypoxia may be used for executions only if drugs for lethal injections are unavailable.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor described the prisoners' crimes as "heinous."

"They either didn't challenge the protocol or offer an alternative method of execution," he said. "These inmates' appeals have lasted between 13 and 36 years in the courts.

"In 2016, two-thirds of Oklahomans voted to insert capital punishment into the Constitution. My job as the state's chief law enforcement officer is to enforce the laws of the state of Oklahoma."

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Last month, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit by a group of prisoners on death row challenging the state's lethal injection protocol can proceed to trial. Several of the 26 death row prisoners who were part of the lawsuit were dropped from the cause because they didn't choose an alternate form of execution, including Coddington, Jones and John Grant.

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