McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 4, 2014

Oklahoma, inmates at odds over execution drug suit

By BAILEY ELISE McBRIDE
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawyers for the state of Oklahoma and for a pair of inmates who have challenged the “veil of secrecy” surrounding the state’s execution drugs can’t agree whether their fight should be heard in state or federal court.

Oklahoma’s attorney general’s office has petitioned to have the inmates’ lawsuit transferred to U.S. District Court, saying a federal judge should consider it because the inmates are invoking claims to constitutional rights. The men’s lawyers say a state judge should hear challenges to state statutes.

While the lawyers fight it out, execution preparations will continue for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, who are due to be put to death this month at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, said Jerry Massie, a Corrections Department spokesman.

The pair filed suit last week, saying they should are entitled to know more about the drugs that will be used to kill them. The case has landed on the federal court docket, but lawyers for the inmates intend to file a petition Wednesday to move the case back to state court.

State prosecutors did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday seeking further comment.

A new hearing date was not immediately set, although the men’s lawyers said there would be a meeting between  on Friday.

The inmates’ lawsuit isn’t challenging their convictions or sentences. Instead, they argue they have the right to know the type, dosage and manufacturer of any drugs to be used in their executions. They fear that a flawed batch of a drug could unduly harm them at the time of their execution.

The state insists that the law leaves all matters regarding lethal injection drugs entirely to the state Department of Corrections, and that prisoners don’t have the right to know the drug details. It says the secrecy surrounding the drugs’ origins is necessary to protect suppliers from possible repercussions.

Lockett, 38, faces a March 20 execution for the 1999 shooting death of a 19-year-old Perry woman. The state Pardon and Parole Board denied his clemency request on Friday.

Warner is set to be executed March 27 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s infant daughter. His request that his sentence be commuted to life in prison was denied Tuesday.

The Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-1 against clemency for Warner, 46, who was convicted in Oklahoma County of rape and first-degree murder in the 1997 death of 11-month-old Adriana Waller.

The board voted against commuting Warner’s death sentence after Warner, members of his family and the victim’s mother, Shonda Waller, asked that his life be spared.

“I can only see him spending the rest of his life in prison,” Waller said in a video recording that was played during the board’s meeting. Waller said she is morally opposed to the death penalty and does not want Warner’s children to lose their father.

Warner described the victim’s death as “a terrible tragedy” but insisted he was not responsible.

“I’ve always maintained my innocence. I am not guilty of this crime,” he told the board.

Warner said the crime could have been committed by someone else while the girl was in his home with another child. But Eric Mullenix, a retired Oklahoma City Police Department detective who investigated the girl’s death, said Warner claimed in an interview he was at the home when the child was hurt although he could not explain how it happened.

Associated Press writer Tim Talley in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.