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After ongoing battles regarding the lethal injection method and whether it is constitutional to use on inmates, Oklahoma decided to speed up the process, as they plan on executing 25 prisoners in the next 29 months.
Additionally, 19 other prisoners were added to the court’s death row list, making up more than half of the 44 inmates.
In response to a request from Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor in mid-June, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals approved the execution date for six prisoners.
O’Connor argued for the State’s approval of the three-drug lethal injection, requesting 25 executions be scheduled last month.
Given that the earliest crime a death row prisoner in Oklahoma committed occurred in 1993, O’Connor disputed that the prisoners had exhausted their criminal appeals, according to statements he made to The Washington Post. He framed impending execution dates as a form of justice for the family members of victims, saying “The family members of these loved ones have waited decades for justice.”
James Coddington is set to be the first person executed among this latest list of detainees on August 25, 2022, followed by Richard Gossip in September. The rest will follow once every four weeks through 2024. Additionally, 21 days prior to the expected execution, Oklahoma prisoners are entitled to a clemency hearing. At this point, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board can recommend clemency to the governor.
Oklahoma a top ten state in executions
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, if Oklahoma continues with the 25 scheduled executions, it would administer more executions over the next two years than all U.S states combined since 2020.
Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol begins with the sedative midazolam, which has provoked legal challenges from defendants who say it fails to reliably render the inmates unconscious, thereby raising the possibility of an execution being considered “cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment.
Attorneys for those on death row said several claim innocence, like Richard Gossip, who is scheduled for execution in September 2022. A bipartisan group of lawmakers hired a law firm to investigate the case of Mr. Gossip, a man convicted of orchestrating the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese in 1997.
Over the years, Gossip has stated that he was framed by his co-worker. However, last month the firm issued findings that conveyed that another man, who most likely acted alone, was convicted in the same case, therefore insinuating Gossip should not have been charged.
Don Knight, a lawyer representing Gossip, said his client is innocent and asked the court to hear new evidence. However, Knight is not the only individual who believes Gossip is innocent, as this case has received widespread attention.
Bipartisan group of lawmakers believe death row detainee is innocent
Kevin McDugle, a Republican lawmaker representing a district outside of Tulsa, has stated that he would outlaw the death penalty if Oklahoma follows through with the execution of Gossip, as he believes he is innocent.
McDulge stated at a news conference in June, “If we put Richard Gossip to death, I will fight in this state to abolish the death penalty, simply because the process is not pure.”
One of the attorneys representing a death row inmate, Jennifer Moreno, stated they are still evaluating their options for an appeal to the 10th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Moreno said in a statement, “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.”
O’Connor asserted that lethal injection drugs and the State’s execution protocols are constitutional in Oklahoma.
“The Court’s ruling is definitive. The plaintiffs in this case ‘have fallen well short of making their case, and midazolam, as the State has repeatedly shown, ‘can be relied upon… to render the inmate insensate to pain.” O’Connor said.
Defendants fight execution dates in state with a history of botched executions
James Stronski, another attorney for a prisoner, stated that inmates would be paralyzed and unable to move or speak after administering the second drug. To make matters worse, Stronski says the inmates would undergo excruciating pain as their hearts stopped beating after potassium chloride was injected into their bodies. Stronski told the judge, “If this is allowed to continue… this is a 21st century burning at stake.”
The injection of the lethal drug is further discouraged due to errors in 2015 when officers received the wrong deadly drug for an inmate, Richard Gossip. The drug mixup was discovered hours before Gossip was scheduled to be executed, and later the same wrong drug was used on another inmate.
The drug mixup occurred after a botched execution in April 2014, where a new drug combination resulted in Clayton Lockett, a then 38-year-old man, convicted of shooting a teenage girl, writing and gripping his teeth on the gurney. For the three-drug protocol, the first drug, midazolam, is supposed to make the individual unconscious.
Yet, three minutes after the injection, Lockett began breathing heavily, thrashing, and lifting his head off the pillow. As a result, prisoner guards paused the proceedings, but it was too late as the inmate died from a heart attack 43 minutes later.
However, state attorneys opposed Stronski’s counterargument, stating that a 500-milligram dose of the sedative was over the amount to ensure inmates become numb to pain. Since October, Oklahoma has performed four lethal injections, which according to General Mithun Mansinghai, former Solicitor of Oklahoma, “are definitive proof that the protocol works as intended.”
Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center, stated that it was uncommon for a state to schedule several executions at once in recent years.
Due to prior failure of the lethal injection amongst inmates, many citizens are worried about Oklahoma’s ability to execute implementations humanely. Plans for executions of inmates reignite mixed emotions, drawing the State back into a controversial topic: capital punishment.