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Oklahoma’s Lethal Injection Problems Go From Bad to Worse

2 minute read

After delaying an execution last month over a drug mix-up, it emerged this week that Oklahoma reportedly used the wrong drug in the January lethal injection of Charles Warner.

The Oklahoman reported Thursday that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride as the third drug in a lethal injection used to execute Warner on Jan. 15. The state’s three-drug protocol requires the use of potassium chloride. Nine months later, in September, the state delayed the lethal injection of Richard Glossip after discovering it had accidentally received potassium acetate from its supplier.

According to an autopsy report obtained by the Oklahoman, empty drug vials used in the execution were labeled “20mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection.” The drug’s use apparently surfaced as part of an investigation into how the state received the wrong drug for Glossip’s execution.

The governor’s office and corrections officials say they’ve been advised by doctors that potassium acetate could be substituted for potassium chloride. The official protocol, however, doesn’t allow it.

The state has been struggling with carrying out lethal injections since the April 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett, who reportedly writhed and groaned during a 43-minute execution. An investigation later discovered that IV lines weren’t improperly placed into Lockett’s groin. The lethal injection was also the first in Oklahoma to use midazolam, a controversial sedative that some have criticized as not powerful enough to properly put inmates to sleep. That protocol was at the heart of a Supreme Court case this summer, in which the justices ruled 5-4 that the state’s drug combination was constitutional.

The execution of Warner, who was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl, was the first lethal injection in Oklahoma since Lockett. The discovery that the state used the wrong drug could delay even further three upcoming executions in Oklahoma that are currently stayed.

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