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Oklahoma schedules 25 executions to begin in August

July 1 (UPI) -- An Oklahoma court on Friday scheduled the executions of 25 men over the next two and a half years, cases that the prisoners' lawyers say "exemplify systemic flaws" in the state's use of the death penalty.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals scheduled the executions in what it described as five "phases," with the first, that of James Coddington, set to take place Aug. 25.

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The following 24 executions will take place roughly every four weeks, culminating with the Dec. 5, 2024, execution of Marlon Harmon.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor asked the court to schedule the executions earlier this month, days after a federal judge ruled the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol isn't likely to create a risk of severe pain and suffering and is therefore constitutional.

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In a statement released after the first six execution dates were announced, O'Connor noted that Oklahomans voted in 2016 to preserve the death penalty.

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"The family members of these loved ones have waited decades for justice," he said. "They are courageous and inspiring in their continued expressions of love for the ones they lost. My office stands beside them as they take this next step in the journey that the murderers forced upon them."

Coddington's lawyer, Emma Rolls, issued a statement saying her client "embodies the principle of redemption." He was sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of Albert Troy Hale, 73, in Choctaw, Okla.

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"Prison staff have given him accolades for his problem-free record and commitment to serving the prison community and engaging in academic study over his 15 years on death row. James is the most deeply and sincerely remorseful client I have ever represented," she said.

Coddington's lawyers said he was the victim of physical abuse as a child and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction at a young age. They said he showed symptoms of "severe mental illness as a child" and was placed in a psychiatric hospital for six months at age 8.

During trial, his lawyers said his defense team was prevented from having a psychiatrist testify that brain damage from years of substance abuse would have made him ineligible for the death penalty.

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Also Friday, attorneys for Richard Glossip, whose execution was scheduled for Sept. 22, filed a motion for a hearing to present new evidence.

An independent investigation requested by Oklahoma legislators found "severe negligence" by police investigators, prosecutors and Glossip's court-appointed attorneys, a release from his current lawyers said.

The investigation found that evidence that pointed toward his innocence was destroyed at the direction of the Oklahoma City district attorney and police department.

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"The facts and evidence that we now know in this case prove Richard Glossip is an innocent man," Glossip's attorney, Don Knight, said. "We urge the state of Oklahoma to grant this request for post-conviction relief based on the abundance of new evidence that has never before been evaluated by a judge or jury."

Knight said he disagrees with the court's decision to set an execution date for his client in light of the new investigative report.

"Richard Glossip has been through three tortuous execution dates already. It does not serve justice to set a fourth execution date for an innocent man before all this new evidence can be fully considered in a court of law," he said.

Glossip was convicted of orchestrating the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese, to cover up a theft. He has maintained over the years that he was framed by a co-worker.

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Oklahoma went nearly seven years without carrying out executions after its 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 Glossip. Former Gov. Mary Fallin called off Glossip's execution with a last-minute, indefinite stay after she learned of the discrepancy.

Starting in 2015, 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.

In 2020, Gov. Kevin Stitt said that after mulling the option of using nitrogen gas to carry out executions, the state has now found a "reliable supply of drugs" to resume lethal injections.

The state has carried out four executions since October 2021.

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