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A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled that the state’s method of lethal injection using a combination of three drugs is constitutional. Oklahoma can now apply for execution dates for over two dozen inmates currently sitting on death row.
The focus of the lawsuit was on the drug midazolam, which attorneys for several death-row inmates had argued was not effective at limiting victims’ ability to feel pain. The plaintiffs claimed using such a drug violated the 8th amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.
However, Judge Stephen Friot disagreed in his ruling. He wrote, “The prerequisites of a successful lethal injection challenge under the Eighth Amendment have been made clear by the Supreme Court. The plaintiff inmates have fallen well short of clearing the bar set by the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, attorneys for the 28 inmates who sit on death row are planning to appeal the ruling. According to Jennifer Moreno, one of the attorneys, “The district court’s decision ignores the overwhelming evidence presented at trial that Oklahoma’s execution protocol, both as written and as implemented, creates an unacceptable risk that prisoners will experience severe pain and suffering.”
Oklahoma’s botched executions, racist death penalty system
Oklahoma has a storied history of botched executions, including inmates who writhed in agony while onlookers watched them slowly die. In 2014, Clayton Lockett suffered obvious discomfort and pain during his execution, which lasted nearly an hour.
According to one medic who was present for Mr. Lockett’s execution, “One of the executioners said, ‘He’s trying to get up off the table’…”The warden was very upset. Nobody wants a prisoner in an execution situation to suffer.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma, with a population of 4 million, has the highest rate of executions per capita of any state. The state ranks first in the nation for executions per 100,000 residents.
Additionally, the death penalty unfairly targets Black and Brown men, who are sentenced to die at higher rates than Whites. People of color account for 43% of those who have been executed, and over 50% of those awaiting execution.
Now dozens of inmates on death row face the possibility that their executions will involve pain and agony. One attorney, James Stronski, told Judge Friot, “If this is allowed to continue … this is a 21st century burning at the stake.”