McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State news

May 16, 2014

Oklahoma could review execution procedures

OKLAHOMA CITY — States across the country are abandoning the three-drug cocktails used to perform more than a thousand executions in favor of a more efficient, single-drug delivery.

Not yet Oklahoma. The state that first developed the three-dug method and has used it since 1990 will review findings of an investigation into the execution of Clayton Lockett before deciding whether to change its protocol, said Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the availability of execution drugs often dictates the procedures used by the 32 states with capital punishment.

“It’s still a little bit of an uncertain, unsettled area where this all heads. Oklahoma has got to say, 'We’ve got to do something different,’” said Dieter, whose non-profit monitors executions and is an advocate against capital punishment.

The national shift to a new method was occurring long before Lockett's clumsy execution on April 29 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Lockett grimaced and writhed in apparent pain, according to witnesses, before officials halted the procedure. He died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes after the execution began. The Department of Public Safety is investigating what happened.

Lockett's execution was notable because it was the first time Oklahoma used the drug midazolam as an anesthetic delivered in the first round of its three-drug procedure.

Florida also has used midazolam - though at a dose reportedly five times greater - in seven executions. Ohio has used the drug once, experienced problems and announced it was increasing its dosage, Dieter said.

Medical professionals consider midazolam a sedative rather than an anesthetic, Dieter said, meaning “you forget any pain that you’ve suffered but it’s not a completely unconsciousness inducing (drug).”

Massie said he could not discuss what prompted Oklahoma to switch to midazolam until the investigation into Lockett’s death is complete.

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