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Federal judge says Oklahoma death penalty suit can proceed

August 11, 2021 GMT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge in Oklahoma City ruled Wednesday a lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection protocols can proceed to trial, making it likely Oklahoma’s de facto moratorium on executions will extend into a seventh year.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot agreed in his order to consider at trial whether Oklahoma’s current three-drug protocol risks subjecting inmates to unconstitutional pain and suffering.

“Plaintiffs are pleased that the court agreed that the merits of their Eighth Amendment claim need to be heard in a full trial,” said assistant federal public defender Dale Baich, who represents some of the 32 death row inmates who are plaintiffs in the case. “We look forward to presenting our evidence in court.”

Oklahoma announced last year it planned to resume executions using a three-drug lethal injection protocol and that a source for the drugs has been secured. The three drugs are: midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

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Friot’s ruling applies to 26 of the 32 Oklahoma death row inmates who agreed to provide the court with an alternative method of execution, including the use of different drug combinations or firing squad. According to a table included in the judge’s order, 19 of the 32 inmates proposed firing squad as an alternative method of execution. Firing squad is currently one of several execution methods authorized under Oklahoma law.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday its attorneys were still reviewing the judge’s order.

Friot rejected some of the inmate’s claims, including a right to know more information about the lethal drugs, to have access to attorneys during the execution and a claim that they would be subject to constitutionally impermissible human experimentation.

The judge indicated a trial could be held early next year, making it likely Oklahoma’s current moratorium on execution will extend into a seventh year. The state once had one of the nation’s busiest death chambers, but a moratorium on capital punishment has been in place since 2015 following three consecutive flawed executions. The lead plaintiff in the case, Richard Glossip, was just hours away from being executed in 2015 when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug.