Oklahoma

Oklahoma

Executions Stayed As Secrecy Issue Is Considered by Oklahoma Supreme Court

UPDATE: On April 23, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the inmates facing execution do not have a right to be informed of the source of the drugs that will be used in their executions. The Court lifted the stays of execution, which means they could occur on April 29. -Earlier: On April 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court indefinitely stayed the executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner so it could resolve the constitutionality of a state law making the sources of its lethal injection drugs a secret. The Supreme Court had originally directed the state Court of Criminal Appeals to stay the executions, but that court declined because it said the secrecy challenge was not part of a criminal appeal. Acting under its authority as the ultimate arbiter of jurisdictional issues, the Supreme Court reluctantly assumed control over the entire case and granted the stays, lest the inmates be left "with no access to the courts" as their executions loomed. On April 22, Gov. Mary Fallin rescheduled Lockett's execution for April 29, questioning the authority of the Supreme Court to grant the stays, although it is unlikely the underlying issue will be resolved by that time. Madeline Cohen, an assistant federal public defender involved in the case, said, "We hope this case will lead to full transparency in Oklahoma's lethal injection practices and that no more executions will take place until basic questions about those practices are answered."

On Eve of Execution, Oklahoma Courts Can't Agree on Who Has Power to Stay

UPDATE: (4/21). The Oklahoma Supreme Court (5-4) has stayed the executions of Lockett and Warner. Earlier:In a 3-2 decision on April 18, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) said it could not grant a stay of execution to two death row inmates facing imminent execution because they had not filed a proper motion. Earlier, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said the OCCA should be the court to grant a stay, especially since there were unsettled questions about the constitutionality of the state's execution law. The two inmates, Clayton Lockett (l.) and Charles Warner (r.), have argued that the "veil of secrecy" surrounding Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional. A lower court ruled in their favor in March. Vice-Presiding Judge Clancey Smith of the OCCA dissented from the 3-2 ruling, saying, "I would grant a stay to avoid irreparable harm as the appellants face imminent execution. I would do so in consideration of the appellants' rights, to avoid the miscarriage of justice, and in comity with the Supreme Court's request for time to resolve the issues pending before it." Attorneys for Lockett and Warner have filed an additonal appeal to the state Supreme Court, stating, "The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) has repeatedly disavowed any authority to stay Appellants’ executions, even in the face of this Court’s direct ruling to the contrary. It simply cannot be that no court in this State has the power to enter a stay of execution in this case. Such a result would close the courts of justice to Appellants, in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution."

Oklahoma Judge Finds Execution Secrecy Unconstitutional

On March 26, Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish held that the state's lethal injection secrecy law violates the constitutional right to due process of inmates slated for execution. "I think that the secrecy statute is a violation of due process because access to the courts has been denied," she said, saying the case was not "even a close call." Death row inmates Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner challenged the law, which bans anyone from disclosing the source of the state's execution drugs, even in court. Attorneys for Lockett and Warner called the decision "an important step towards greater transparency and accountability in Oklahoma's execution system" and expressed hope "that no execution will go forward until the state reveals full information about the source of its execution drugs, particularly in light of the new, controversial protocol it unveiled last week...."

Oklahoma Unable to Obtain Lethal Injection Drugs for Upcoming Executions

(UPDATE: The executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner were stayed until April 22 and 29 respectively.) Oklahoma does not have the necessary drugs to carry out the upcoming executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, scheduled for March 20 and 26. According to a brief filed on behalf of the Department of Corrections, the department has made a "Herculean effort" to obtain pentobarbital and vecuronium bromide for the lethal injections, but still lacks a supply of either drug. The brief said that a deal to obtain the two drugs from a pharmacy had fallen through, but it did not name the pharmacy. The state's death penalty statute lists two alternative methods of execution, but they can only be used if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional. Federal public defender Madeline Cohen said, "It's stunning news to us that the state does not have the means to carry out a legal execution right now, and it gives us deep cause for concern that they are coupling that revelation with an insistence on shrouding the process in secrecy." Both Lockett and Warner have argued it is improper for Oklahoma to carry out executions behind a "veil of secrecy," preventing them from obtaining information about the drugs to be used in their executions.

Problems Arise As Ohio Tries New Execution Procedure

On January 16, Ohio carried out the first lethal injection in the U.S. using a new protocol, resulting in a lengthy and disruptive execution. Ohio employed a back-up procedure to execute Dennis McGuire, using midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller. Witnesses to the execution reported that McGuire snorted, gasped, and struggled during the execution, which took longer than usual for death to occur. Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and lethal injection expert, said, “Whether there were choking sounds or it was just snorting, the execution didn’t go the way it was supposed to go.” Anesthesiologists had warned that the new cocktail of drugs could cause a condition called "air hunger," in which the inmate would gasp for air but be unable to absorb oxygen. On January 9, Oklahoma executed Michael Wilson using different drugs, and the inmate on the gurney said, “I feel my whole body burning,” as the drugs began to flow.

INNOCENCE: Faulty Practices Raise Doubts About Accuracy of Crime Labs

A recent article in the ABA Journal drew attention to problems in crime labs across the country that have resulted in  wrongful convictions, including some in death penalty cases. Investigations in many states and of the national FBI lab revealed a lack of written procedures, improper mixing of samples from different cases, improper testimony, and even falsification of test results. An Oklahoma City chemist who testified in 23 death penalty cases was later fired for giving false or misleading testimony. Twelve of the defendants in whose cases she had testified were executed. In North Carolina, an independent audit by two retired FBI agents showed that analysts at the state lab had regularly withheld or distorted evidence in more than 230 cases over a 16-year period, including three cases that resulted in executions. Some experts are pushing for better regulation of forensic labs. The National Academy of Sciences presented 13 recommendations in a 2009 report, including calling for the creation of an independent national institute of forensic science, and enforcement of accreditation and certification standards. Very few of the Academy's recommendations have been implemented. Paul Giannelli, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, who has studied crime labs for 20 years, said forensic labs should be held to the same standards as clinical labs that conduct medical tests. "They're both a matter of life and liberty," he said.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Suspends Former Prosecutor for Misconduct in Death Penalty Cases

On June 25 (Tuesday), the Oklahoma Supreme Court suspended former Oklahoma County prosecutor Robert Bradley Miller for his misconduct in murder trials that eventually led to the release of two death row inmates. In 2006, a federal judge dismissed the murder convictions of Paris Powell and Yancy Douglas after finding that a deal made between the prosecutor and the key witness in the case was never disclosed to the defense attorneys. In Tuesday’s ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that Miller misused the subpoena process to force witnesses to cooperate, failed to disclose evidence to defense attorneys, and prevented the defense from accessing evidence. In a 5-2 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered that Miller be suspended from practicing law for 180 days and pay a fine of $12,800. Although the majority agreed to the suspension, Justice Steven Taylor wrote in his dissent that Miller should have been disbarred. Justice Taylor wrote, “Whether it was 'decades ago' or today, no attorney should ever commit the 'reprehensible' conduct in death penalty (or any other) litigation as detailed in the majority opinion and trial panel report. The actions of the respondent take us into the dark, unseen, ugly, shocking nightmare vision of a prosecutor who loves victory more than he loves justice."

CLEMENCY: Oklahoma Board Recommends Mercy for Inmate Facing Execution

UPDATE: Gov. Mary Fallin refused to grant clemency to Davis. On June 6, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Brian Darrell Davis, who is facing execution on June 25. The board voted 4-1 to recommend that Davis's death sentence be commuted to life in prison without  parole. The parole board recommended clemency after Davis took responsibility for the crime and apologized to the family of the victim. "A weight lifted off of all of us," said his mother, Yvonne Davis. "Brian does deserve a second chance." Davis was convicted of murdering his girlfriend's mother. The recommendation now goes to Governor Mary Fallin, who can approve or reject the vote. The governor also has the authority to grant a 30-day stay in order to consider the case further.

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