Oklahoma is running out of a drug it uses to execute inmates, leaving the state
looking at options to put people to death for capital crimes.
Under the law, the state could try to find a substitute drug. If an appellate
court finds an injection of lethal chemicals unconstitutional, Oklahoma's
default option is electrocution, but the state prisons chief said Monday he
doesn't believe courts would permit that. The firing squad is the other option
allowed under the law.
Oklahoma has 4 doses remaining of pentobarbital, an anesthetic drug that
manufacturers have objected to selling for use in executions, Department of
Corrections Director Justin Jones said. Two executions are set for next month,
and it's not clear what Oklahoma would do if it exhausts its supply.
"The manufacturers don't want to sell it for that use," Jones told The
Associated Press. "I think you're going to see that for decades to come."
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center,
said other anesthetic drugs exist. During executions, pentobarbital causes the
person to lose consciousness, then vecuronium bromide stops the breathing, and
potassium chloride stops the heart.
"If pentobarbital has to be substituted for, that may well be possible," Dieter
said. "It is probably not as likely the state would say go back to
electrocution or firing squad."
The Oklahoman reported Monday on the shortage.
Last year, Oklahoma passed a law that allows people to be executed using "drug
or drugs," instead of naming which drugs can be used.
Jones said that, for multiple reasons, electrocution is likely not an option.
The attorney general and corrections agency have asked legislators to ban
electrocution, and the state's unwired electric chair — "a piece of antiquated
machinery" — is in a museum at the Department of Corrections, Jones said.
"Our preference would be to continue to access that particular anesthesia
(pentobarbital)," Jones said.
State Rep. Randy Terrill said the 1st option should be to find an alternative
"The bigger issue is this private European pharmacy wanting to play with public
safety policy," Terrill said.
Terrill said another option would be to restrict pharmaceutical companies from
selling other drugs in Oklahoma if they refuse to sell drugs for use in
Lethal injection in Oklahoma began in 1990. The state used a different drug,
sodium thiopental, in a 3-drug combination, but a shortage of execution drugs
hit the United States in 2010. Hospira Inc., the Lake Forest, Ill.-based
manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced it would stop producing the drug
because authorities in Italy wanted to ensure the drug from its plant there
would not be used in executions.
Oklahoma switched to using pentobarbital. Denmark-based Lundbeck Inc., which
produces pentobarbital, objected and asked Oklahoma to stop using the drug in
executions. Prison officials said last year no changes were planned.
Garry T. Allen was scheduled for execution last Thursday, but he was granted a
30-day stay and is now due to die March 17. Fallin's legal team is considering
a clemency recommendation from the state Pardon and Parole Board.
Timothy Stemple is scheduled to die March 15.
Since 1915, the state executed 3 women and 177 men, according to the Department
of Corrections. The majority, 97 people, were executed by lethal injection. 82
people were killed by electrocution and one by hanging. The last time a person
was executed by firing squad was in 2010 in Utah, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center. The last electrocution was in 2010 in Virginia.
Veteran defense attorney James Rowan, a board member of the Oklahoma Coalition
to Abolish the Death Penalty, welcomed the news of the shortage as "wonderful."
However, Rowan said, "I'm sure they will find something equally lethal to take
(source: Associated Press)