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Federal judge declines stay for 5 Oklahoma death row prisoners

Federal judge declines stay for 5 Oklahoma death row prisoners
John Grant is scheduled to be executed Thursday for the 1998 murder of prison worker Gay Carter. File Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Oct. 26 (UPI) -- A federal judge has declined to issues stays of execution for five Oklahoma death row prisoners.

The Monday ruling means that Oklahoma is set to carry out its first execution in six years on Thursday, that of John Grant, 60. The other four inmates named in the request for a stay were Julius Jones (Nov. 18), Donald Grant (Jan. 27), Gilbert Postelle (Feb. 17) and Wade Lay (Jan. 6).

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U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot in the Western District of Oklahoma declined the preliminary injunction despite the fact that the five prisoners were reinstated to a lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection protocol earlier this month.

Dale Baich, an attorney for the prisoners, said former Attorney General Mike Hunter promised not to carry out executions on plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit while the case was pending in district court. The trial is scheduled to begin in February.

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"The district court itself has acknowledged serious questions about whether Oklahoma's execution procedures will cause prisoners unconstitutional pain and suffering," Baich said in a statement Monday. "With a trial on that very question set to begin in February, executions should not go forward. We will ask the 10th Circuit to review the district court's decision and stay Mr. Grant's scheduled execution on Thursday, as well as those that are set over the coming months."

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

Gov. Kevin 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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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