Why Oklahoma won't perform any executions until next year

Oklahoma executions have been in the national spotlight since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April, 2014. On Friday, the state's attorney general has requested an extension on all existing stays.

Sue Ogrocki/AP
A news van arrives at the front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the scheduled execution of Charles Warner in McAlester, Okla., Jan. 15 Oklahoma’s attorney general has agreed to not request execution dates until 2016, as his office investigates why the state used the wrong drug to execute Warner, according to court documents filed Friday.

Oklahoma’s attorney general has announced that he will not request execution dates for prisoners on death row until 2016.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt and his officer are currently investigating how the state got the wrong drug for its lethal drug cocktail twice. Until that investigation is complete, Mr. Pruitt is trying to stay all executions performed by the state.

The issue with the wrong drug came to officials' attention, on Sept. 30, when prison workers reported receiving potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride (the approved drug for the lethal injection cocktail used in the state). After revealing the mix-up, Gov. Mary Fallin called off pending executions, including that of Richard Glossip, who was scheduled to die within hours.

An autopsy released later the next week revealed that Oklahoma had actually used the questionable potassium acetate in the execution of Charles Warner in January. The January execution date was Warner’s second. He was originally scheduled to be executed in April, the same day as Clayton Lockett, whose botched and gruesome execution set in motion a series of legal proceedings relating to constitutionality around one of the drugs used.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has already ordered indefinite stays of execution for the death row inmates set to be executed this year. Mr. Pruitt’s proposal takes the stay further, asking for no executions to be set until 150 days after the investigation is complete, the findings made public, and the prison department is found to be in compliance with lethal injection protocol.

The prison officials who discovered the potassium acetate immediately contacted the supplier. The supplier’s position was that “potassium acetate is medically interchangeable with potassium chloride at the same quantity,” according to Robert Patton, Oklahoma prisons director, who spoke with the Associated Press.

Other pharmaceutical and chemistry experts disagree. 

Experts contacted by the Associated Press said that there was a difference between potassium acetate and potassium chloride. Potassium chloride is likely to be absorbed by the body more quickly and the quantities needed may differ. More potassium acetate may be needed to achieve the same effect.

Pruitt’s proposal is still awaiting approval from a federal judge. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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