OKLAHOMA CITY - Prison officials are experimenting on death row inmates and violating the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment by tinkering with Oklahoma's lethal injection procedures, attorneys for a group of condemned Oklahoma inmates argued Wednesday in a federal lawsuit.
Filed on behalf of 21 death row inmates, the lawsuit seeks to halt any attempt to execute them using the state's current lethal injection protocols, which it claims presents a risk of severe pain and suffering. It also contends state officials failed to consult experts in the development of procedures and that the drugs being used are not suitable for executions.
The lawsuit follows the state's botched April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett using a new three-drug method. Lockett writhed on the gurney, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes, and his execution was halted after a doctor determined there was a problem with a single IV in Lockett's groin. He was pronounced dead anyway about 43 minutes after the execution began.
"By attempting to conduct executions with an ever-changing array of untried drugs of unknown provenance, using untested procedures, the defendants are engaging in a program of biological experimentation on captive and unwilling human subjects," the lawsuit states.
A spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said they were reviewing the filing, but declined further comment. The Department of Corrections does not comment on pending litigation, spokesman Jerry Massie said.
Lockett's execution was the first time Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam as the first in its three-drug combination. The lawsuit contends that drug should not be used because it's possible an inmate would remain aware even after the drug was administered, resulting in severe pain when the next two drugs are injected.
The lawsuit also contends it is inappropriate to use compounded drugs and revise the state's protocol without adequate court review. It also claims prison officials should not have closed a curtain on the death chamber during Lockett's execution that prevented witnesses from viewing what was happening, including the final 26 minutes of Lockett's life.
Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered an independent investigation into Lockett's botched execution, and prisons director Robert Patton has previously suggested Oklahoma's lethal injection protocols need to be revised.
Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are inmates Charles Warner, who had been scheduled to die the same day as Lockett but has had his date changed to Nov. 13, and Richard Glossip, whose execution is set for Nov. 20.
Both Lockett and Warner had sued the state seeking to find out the source of the drugs, including the name of the compounding pharmacy where the drugs were mixed, but the attorney general's office successfully fought to keep those secret.
Along with Patton, defendants include the warden of Oklahoma State Penitentiary; members of the Board of Corrections; and the anonymous participants in the execution, including the doctor inside the death chamber, the paramedic charged with inserting the IVs, and the three executioners who actually administer the lethal drugs.