An unprecedented number of executions were set by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals July 1, looking to put to death 25 of the state’s 43 death-row prisoners starting this August through 2024, almost one death per month. Dates were set for killing “prisoners with severe mental illness, brain damage, and claims of innocence,” the Death Penalty Information Center protested.
The court’s ruling came after Federal District Court Judge Stephen Friot denied a challenge to the state’s three-drug lethal-injection protocol filed by more than 20 Oklahoma death-row prisoners in 2014. The prisoners say the protocol violates the Eighth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution since the use of drugs is a cruel and unusual punishment.
The sedative midazolam is used in the protocol. Scientific studies show when it is prepared in an acidic solution, as is the case in executions, it destroys lung tissue. Autopsies of four men executed in Oklahoma between 2021 and 2022 show each of them had excess fluid in their lungs.
Another of the drugs used, potassium chloride, causes extreme pain “similar to being burned alive” wrote Oklahoma Watch.
In a botched Oklahoma execution on Oct. 28, 2021, John Marion Grant “began convulsing, so much so that his entire upper back repeatedly lifted off the gurney,” reported Dan Snyder of Fox-25 TV. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections claims his execution was carried out “without complication.”
Before Grant was executed there had been a moratorium on administering the death penalty in Oklahoma after Clayton Lockett writhed in pain for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack when the state put him to death in 2014.
The prisoners’ legal challenge was denied in 2015 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision that said the prisoners had failed to prove a level of pain that would violate the Constitution and that it was up to the prisoners to propose an alternative drug for their own executions.
A year later a grand jury cited dozens of errors by state officials carrying out executions, including modifying the drug protocol without authority. The prisoners’ case was reopened in 2020. Now they are appealing the July 1 decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the new execution schedule is set to begin before the appeal can even be heard.
One of those due to be put to death Sept. 22 is Richard Glossip. He was convicted of hiring Justin Sneed to kill Barry Van Teese, the owner of the motel where Glossip worked in 1997. Sneed pled guilty to the killing. Thirty-four state legislators oppose Glossip’s execution and call for a new hearing, saying authorities investigating the murder pressured Sneed to incriminate Glossip.
“The Socialist Workers Party calls for the complete and immediate abolition of the death penalty,” Osborne Hart, SWP candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, told the Militant. “It’s a barbaric weapon used by the capitalist ruling class to silence and intimidate working people, along with the cops, courts, prisons and their entire criminal ‘justice’ system.”