Death Row Inmates File Suit For Details of Execution Drugs

By Paul Gaita 02/28/14

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, both awaiting capital punishment in Oklahoma, are challenging the state's use of a controversial combination of lethal drugs.

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The nationwide shortage of drugs used to execute death row prisoners is forced back into the spotlight by lawsuits filed by two Oklahoma inmates seeking information about the drugs that will be used to put them to death.

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner are scheduled to be executed by the state on March 20 and 27 for murder charges, but both have sought a restraining order against state corrections officials in order to determine whether the trio of drugs that will be used for executions have been contaminated with “particulate foreign matter or a microbial biohazard that could lead to a severe allergic reaction upon injection,” according to the suit filed by their lawyers.

Like many states that uphold the death penalty, Oklahoma has been forced to find substitute execution drugs after drug makers, mostly based in Europe, refused to sell their pharmaceuticals to Stateside prisons and corrections departments. The state’s response was to drop the requirement that inmates receive a sedative continuously during the execution and shield information about the exact nature of their execution methods.

Lawyers for Lockett and Warner do not challenge their clients’ guilt or the death penalty imposed upon them. Rather, they seek full disclosure of Oklahoma’s execution policies. Specifically, they want to know if the Tulsa-based compounding pharmacy The Apothecary Shoppe has provided the state with execution drugs. The company made national headlines earlier this year when lawyers for death row inmate Michael Taylor challenged the state of Missouri’s decision to use drugs from a compounding pharmacy, which is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As a result, the drug has caused inmates to unduly suffer in the course of the execution, as was the case in the January 2014 execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Michael Lee Wilson, who screamed that his “whole body [was] burning” after receiving an injection of pentobarbital.

The Apothecary Shoppe later agreed to not supply the pentobarbital for Taylor’s death sentence, which took place on February 26. Lockett and Warner’s lawyers have also expressed concern that the pentobarbital supplied to the state may have been provided by a veterinary medical supplier. A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said that the office had received the lawsuit, while the director of communications for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt noted that Oklahoma is “in compliance with the law” in regard to execution procedure.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.