The wrong lethal injection drug was used in an Oklahoma execution in January, an autopsy report obtained by an Oklahoma newspaper shows.
The Oklahoman reported Thursday that potassium acetate, instead of potassium chloride as required under the state's protocol, was the final drug administered to stop Charles Frederick Warner's heart during his Jan. 15 execution.
Mr. Warner, convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-month-old in 1997, is the last murderer to be executed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
His punishment was carried out almost nine months after the execution of murderer Clayton Lockett, whose botched execution triggered an investigation into the combination of drugs used that went all the way up to the Supreme Court on the grounds of Eighth Amendment rights infringement – that is, whether or not Oklahoma failed to protect Mr. Lockett from “cruel and unusual” punishment.
The high court upheld a lower court decision that found that prisoners facing the death penalty in Oklahoma were unlikely to suffer an intolerable pain level during the execution.
The same incorrect drug found in Warner’s autopsy report were delivered to corrections officials Sept. 30 for the scheduled execution of another convicted murderer, Richard Glossip.
After learning of the mistake, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin granted a last-minute stay and postponed off the executions of two additional death row inmates.
An investigation into the circumstances surrounding Warner's execution was announced by Attorney General Scott Pruitt shortly after. On Wednesday, Mr. Pruitt said the investigation will cover any previous drug mistake, The Oklahoman reports.
“I want to assure the public that our investigation will be full, fair, and complete and includes not only actions on Sept. 30, but any and all actions prior, relevant to the use of potassium acetate and potassium chloride,” Pruitt said.
Governor Fallin said Wednesday night she supports further inquiry into Warner's execution, and told the newspaper it “became apparent” on Sept. 30 when Glossip’s execution was delayed that a similar mix-up may have occurred in Warner’s case.
Under Oklahoma Corrections Department protocol, potassium chloride, required to be split into two syringes, is the last of three drugs used for lethal injections. Under the protocol, the total dose of potassium chloride to be used in a lethal injection is “240 milliequivalents.”
According to Warner’s autopsy report, two of the syringes were labeled with white tape “120 mEq Potassium Chloride.” However, the report shows 12 empty vials used to fill the syringes are labeled “20mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection, USP 40 mEq\2mEq\mL.”
After receiving midazolam, the first drug in the series of three, Warner reportedly said, "My body is on fire," but showed no other signs of distress and was pronounced dead after 18 minutes.
“It is imperative that the attorney general obtain the information he needs to make sure justice is served competently and fairly,” Fallin said in an email to The Oklahoman. “Until we have complete confidence in the system, we will delay any further executions.”
She said she and the attorney general delayed Glossip's execution as a precaution, despite the doctor and the pharmacist working with corrections officials agreeing that potassium chloride and potassium acetate are medically interchangeable.
“The active ingredient is potassium, which, when injected in large quantities, stops the heart,” the governor said.
She said “it became apparent” during the discussions Sept. 30 about a delay that the Corrections Department may have used potassium acetate in Warner's execution. “I was not aware nor was anyone in my office aware of that possibility until the day of Richard Glossip's scheduled execution,” she said.
On Tuesday, Fallin said she has hired an outside attorney “to look at the whole process” and provide oversight.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.