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Oklahoma Capital Punishment News
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    Oklahoma Capital Punishment News

    Bill Proposes Death For Molesters

    OKLAHOMA CITY -- Repeat sex offenders convicted of raping a child 6 years old or younger would be eligible for the death penalty under a bill approved Monday by a House committee, despite a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a similar law was unconstitutional.

    The bill by Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, was among a host of measures overwhelmingly approved by the House Judiciary Committee that either create new felony crimes or enhance existing criminal penalties.

    Duncan, a former prosecutor who chairs the committee, said he believes the Supreme Court erred in its decision and that his proposed law could be upheld by the new members of the court.

    "I think they did get it wrong," Duncan said of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision, "and I would not be surprised if other states revisit their statutes on this issue."

    The Supreme Court decision came in a Louisiana case involving 43-year-old Patrick Kennedy, who was sentenced to death for the rape of an 8-year-old girl. The nation's highest court ruled the Louisiana law allowing the death penalty to be imposed in such cases violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

    In the court's majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded that in cases of crimes against individuals - as opposed to treason, for example - "the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim's life was not taken."

    At the time of the ruling, Oklahoma was among five states to explicitly permit such executions.

    Duncan said the intent of his bill is to target child rapists who already have a previous conviction for a violent sex offense.

    "If that's what the bill says, the bill is facially unconstitutional," said Randall Coyne, a constitutional law professor at the University of Oklahoma. "The court can change its mind, and it often does ... but I doubt the court would overturn so recent a decision."

    State Rep. Ryan Kiesel, the lone opposing vote against the measure, said he agrees child rapists should be handed harsh penalties but questioned the wisdom of a measure that clearly violate a Supreme Court ruling.

    "I think it would be a terrible waste of time and money for a district attorney in the state of Oklahoma to seek that punishment and then see that as an appeal issue and take a long time to wind through the courts, putting an additional emotional burden on the victims and their families," said Kiesel, D-Seminole.

    Another bill passed by the panel would require couples to receive at least one hour of marital counseling before they could obtain a divorce in Oklahoma


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    House passes death penalty bill

    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to force repeat child molesters to face possible penalties of life in prison or death.

    The House voted 91-2 Monday for the bill by Rep. Rex Duncan of Sand Springs and sent it to the Senate for action.

    Under current law, a child molester can face a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for a first offense. Duncan's legislation will increase the penalty to include a maximum sentence of life without parole.

    It would also allow repeat offenders to face life without parole or the death penalty.

    Duncan says the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst criminals. He says he believes people with a history of violently raping children fall into that category

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    Senate panel OKs death penalty for child rapists

    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Legislature is pushing forward a bill to allow the death penalty for child rapists, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that such a penalty is unconstitutional.

    A Senate committee on Wednesday passed a bill already approved in the House that authorizes the death penalty for anyone convicted of a second offense of raping a child age 6 or younger.

    Senate author Anthony Sykes says he hopes the law might be upheld since the court makeup has changed since its 2008 ruling that a similar law in Louisiana was unconstitutional.

    In that 5-4 decision, the court ruled the death penalty is restricted to murder and crimes against the state, like espionage and treason.

    Legal scholars say it's unlikely the Oklahoma law would be upheld.


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    Lethal injection made its debut in Oklahoma 20 years ago

    The killing got off to a late start.

    Witnesses who'd gathered at the state penitentiary in McAlester expected Charles Troy Coleman to commence dying at 12:02 a.m. That's when the execution was set to start.

    As the clock ticked toward a quarter after the hour, though, prison officials remained quiet. Some observers worried that something was amiss. Others wondered whether the Supreme Court had stepped in or whether the governor had issued a last-minute stay.

    About 12:15 a.m., the dozen media witnesses were escorted into a viewing room. There would be a death that night, after all. Curtains opened, and Coleman, a murderer, could be seen inside the death chamber. He was lying on a gurney. A sheet covered his body, but his head was exposed.

    The execution began 10 minutes later.

    Art Cox, of the Enid News & Eagle, who witnessed it, described Coleman's end as a "very easy death ... a very cold death, very antiseptic." Warden James Saffle said Coleman died quickly.

    Joe Ward, an investigator for the public defender's office who had come to know and like Coleman, perceived it differently.

    "I saw him choke and gasp and struggle for air," Ward said. "It looked like he was choking to death. He looked over ... and mouthed the words, 'I love you.' Then he looked straight back up and started choking."

    He was pronounced dead at 12:35 a.m.

    It was Sept. 10, 1990. Oklahoma had executed its first prisoner by lethal injection.

    Over the next two decades, the state would employ the drug cocktail 91 more times, executing more people in that span than in the preceding 75 years. Three were women. Additional convicts are scheduled to die this year.

    The federal government and the 35 states with the death penalty use lethal injection as the primary form of execution, and it has been used on 1,050 prisoners nationwide, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

    But it — like the death penalty itself — has spurred ardent debate, and condemned prisoners continue to file appeals claiming that state-sanctioned drug deaths are unconstitutional and cruel.

    Twenty years after Coleman's death, the method remains as controversial as ever.

    'Most humane'

    Coleman was the only Oklahoma convict put to death in 1990 and the first since James French was electrocuted in 1966.

    The death penalty was suspended by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. The court declared in Furman v. Georgia that Georgia's death penalty system violated the Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment. The court's decision stopped executions nationwide and commuted the sentences of hundreds of condemned prisoners.

    The ban didn't last. States changed their death penalty laws to avoid the constitutional problems cited by the court, and in 1977, Utah executed Gary Gilmore by firing squad.

    That same year, Oklahoma became the first state to establish lethal injection as a method of execution. Dr. Jay Chapman, Oklahoma's first medical examiner, devised the recipe that still is used in most states today.

    "The proposal was for three drugs," he said recently. "Some people have termed it a cocktail. It starts with an ultra short-acting barbiturate, which renders the individual unconscious, then the vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes, and then the third drug, potassium chloride, which stops the heart."

    Lethal injection was developed as the "most humane" way to end life, he said.

    "It could not be construed as cruel and unusual punishment since it is merely the extreme of procedures done daily around the world for surgical procedures," Chapman said. "It's simply an extreme form of anesthesia."

    Condemned prisoners insist that Chapman is wrong.

    According to the Death Penalty Information Center: "Those raising lethal injection challenges (both those executed and those stayed) are generally claiming that the drugs used in the executions cause extreme and unnecessary pain, and that the combination of chemicals masks the pain being experienced by the inmate from the sight of those administering the death penalty."

    Some prisoners have had dramatic reactions to the drugs. In 1992, Oklahoman killer Robyn Lee Parks took 11 minutes to die. The Oklahoman's Don Mecoy, who witnessed Parks' death, wrote:

    "Parks was blinking and nervously licking his lips when he gasped and violently gagged. His head jerked toward his right shoulder, turning away from the gathered witnesses as he lapsed into unconsciousness. He groaned as his girlfriend, Debra Sutton, cried out: 'This isn't real. This isn't real. Oh God, it isn't real.'"

    Scott Carpenter, also a murderer, was executed in Oklahoma in 1997. Oklahoman reporter Tony Thornton wrote: "His body made 18 violent convulsions, followed by eight milder ones, before the life drained from him."

    Most, however, slip quietly into unconsciousness and death, and state Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said he is unaware of any "major issues" resulting from lethal injections.

    "We've had some occasions where they had more of a physical reaction to it, according to the witnesses, and we've had some issues with finding a vein at times, usually with intravenous drug users, but we've been able to resolve those," he said.

    Legal challenges

    In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court validated the use of the three-drug cocktail but foresaw further arguments on the issue, the Death Penalty Information Center noted.

    "I assumed that our decision would bring the debate about lethal injection as a method of execution to a close," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in an opinion. "It now seems clear that it will not. ... Instead of ending the controversy, I am now convinced that this case will generate debate not only about the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol ... but also about the justification for the death penalty itself."

    Most recently, a federal judge issued a 60-day stay of execution hours before Oklahoma prisoner Jeffrey David Matthews was to die on Aug. 17.

    At issue was the Corrections Department's plan to use a different barbiturate than usual: Brevital, a form of methohexital sodium, instead of sodium thiopental. Manufacturing problems have caused a national shortage of the latter drug.

    "We had it," Massie said. "I don't know if it expired or what, but when we had it tested, we weren't satisfied with the quality of it."

    Defense attorneys argued that Brevital never has been used in executions and is not an acceptable alternative. The state said the drug meets the statutory requirement for an ultra short-acting barbiturate.

    The Corrections Department now has obtained more sodium thiopental. The attorney general has asked the judge to lift the stay of execution. If the judge complies, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals will set a new execution date.


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    Shortage of death penalty drug in Oklahoma delays executions

    A nationwide shortage of a sedative used in Oklahoma's lethal injection cocktails has delayed executions, spurred legal battles and prompted state prison officials to try to find substitute drugs.

    The execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown as viewed from the witness gallery, in this Nov. 20, 2008, file photo, in Walla Walla, Wash. Cal Coburn Brown is scheduled to die Friday, Sept. 10, 2010, for the murder of Holly Washa in 1991. If the execution is carried out, Brown will be the first person executed in Washington since 2001. AP Photo

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    Shortage of death penalty drug in Oklahoma delays executions The problems will continue into next year, as the manufacturer of the sedative, sodium thiopental, won't have more of the anesthetic on the market until then.

    In Oklahoma, the sedative's shortage could affect as many as four executions. One execution already has been stayed and another is scheduled but with a substitute drug. Further, the state attorney general's office is likely to request before 2011 that two more executions be set.

    State prison officials already have twice planned to use alternative sedatives. The first switch announced last month caused a federal judge to stay an execution on the day the inmate was set to die.

    In another case, officials announced last week the planned use of a different substitute drug, which could lead to another stay and a lawsuit. A federal public defender claimed the Corrections Department is arbitrarily making life and death decisions.

    "They're making up their protocol based on what is available at the time," Oklahoma Western District Federal Public Defender Susan M. Otto told a judge. "We have no assurance what they plan to do today is what will happen."

    State Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said the decisions are based on consultations with other corrections departments.

    "There are people out there that can give you advice," he said.

    Of the 35 states that allow the death penalty, nearly all use sodium thiopental as part of the lethal cocktail, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

    Late last month, Kentucky announced it would not be able to carry out two of three scheduled lethal injections because the state has only enough sodium thiopental for one. In Ohio and Washington a large overdose of sodium thiopental is the only drug administered during lethal injections.

    While several states' laws indicate the drugs to be used during lethal injection, Oklahoma law calls for an ultra short-acting barbiturate without specifying a drug.

    Oklahoma's protocol for lethal injection is for the sedative to be administered first, followed by a drug to stop breathing and then a drug to stop the heart. Up until last month, the usual sedative was sodium thiopental.

    Hospira, based outside Chicago, is the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental. The shortage occurred because of an issue with a third-party supplier, company spokeswoman Tareta Adams said.

    "What we're dealing with is a supply issue of the active ingredient," she said. "From a sales point of view, it's not a big product for us."

    The drug — manufactured and used for 60 years as an anesthetic agent for surgeries and other procedures — should be back on the market in early 2011, Adams said.

    Sodium thiopental was to be used on Oklahoma death row inmate Jeffrey David Matthews until corrections officials learned the only dose had expired, according to court records.

    Matthews, 38, was scheduled for lethal injection Aug. 17 for murdering Otis Short, 77, during a 1994 McClain County burglary.

    A federal judge stayed Matthews' execution after his attorneys raised concerns about the substitute sedative. Prison officials later obtained a dose of sodium thiopental, but the judge said there could be other issues and kept an Oct. 15 hearing and would not lift the stay to expire on Oct. 16.

    Two days before Matthews' stay expires, Donald Ray Wackerly II, 40, is scheduled to be executed for the 1996 murder of Pan Sayakhoummane, 51, during a Sequoyah County robbery.

    Assistant Attorney General Greg Metcalfe told the judge the dose of sodium thiopental is earmarked for Matthews and the Corrections Department plans to use another sedative, pentobarbital, for Wackerly's execution. Veterinarians use pentobarbital for animal euthanasia and it is the legal drug for physician-assisted suicide in Oregon.

    The judge noted Wackerly's right to file a lawsuit challenging the use pentobarbital. As of Friday afternoon, Wackerly had not filed a lawsuit.

    Before the year ends, the state attorney general's office may ask the state Court of Criminal Appeals to set two execution dates, said spokeswoman Emily Lang. John David Duty faces execution for the 2001 strangulation death of his cellmate in 2001; and Billy Alverson faces execution for the 1995 fatal beating of a store clerk in Tulsa.


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    Victims' families suffer through death row ploys

    Thank goodness Donald Wackerly was able to get things lined up almost exactly the way he wanted before he was executed by the state of Oklahoma. Wackerly clearly had no such concerns about his victim before shooting him eight times and leaving him in the Arkansas River. Wackerly first challenged Oklahoma's lethal injection procedure. A federal judge eventually ruled that the measures used by our corrections officials exceed the guidelines the Supreme Court has said are constitutional.
    Wackerly then asked to have the execution put off for a week to allow the judge to decide whether a Buddhist spiritual adviser could be in the death chamber during the procedure. Attorneys reached an agreement allowing the adviser into the room immediately afterward. Wackerly was executed Thursday.
    Another death row inmate, Jeffery David Matthews, has secured a stay by arguing over the sedative used during executions. Kevin Underwood, who confessed to butchering 10-year-old Rose Bolin in Purcell in 2006, claims a juror withheld information at trial and now wants a new one.
    This is how it is, and has been for some time, with death penalty cases in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Killers use every conceivable ploy to try to extend their lives, while the victims' families are put through one emotional ride after another.
    Rose's grandmother says she hopes the girl won't be forgotten "among all the technicalities." Sad to say, the legal system makes focusing on her life, and the lives of all such victims, more difficult than ever.
    (source: Editorial, The Oklahoman)

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    Oklahoma Plans to Execute Convict Using Veterinary Drug

    Lawyers for a death row inmate in Oklahoma are protesting a state plan to kill their client using a drug typically used to put down animals amid a nationwide shortage of the anesthetic regularly used in executions.

    Oklahoma is considering the use of pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals, in the upcoming execution of John David Duty, a convicted murderer scheduled to be executed on Dec. 12.

    Across the country, states that implement the death penalty by lethal injection are scrambling to determine alternative ways to kill convicts. Hospira, the maker of sodium thiopental, better known as Pentothal, has announced a suspension of production of the drug because of an unspecified supply problem with the drug's key ingredient.

    "We are probably going to look at a number of different options now that we can't use sodium thiopental," said Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. "We are not sure yet what we'll end up using, but pentobarbital is a strategy we're looking at."

    In court documents requesting approval to use pentobarbital, the state called the drug "an ideal anesthetic agent for humane euthanasia in animals," comparing it to the sodium thiopental used as the first part of a three-drug cocktail administered during an execution.

    In federal court documents filed Monday, Duty's lawyers argued that using pentobarbital is potentially painful and would be tantamount to torture.

    "Pentobarbital is untested, potentially dangerous, and could well result in a torturous execution for Mr. Duty," his lawyers wrote.

    "There are risks associated with ... Pentobarbital, especially since the [state executioners] intend to use the drug as part of a 3-drug cocktail," they wrote. "Most notably, Pentobarbital is a slower acting barbiturate than Sodium Thiopental. ... This increases the risk to Mr. Duty of not being fully anesthetized at the time the Vecuronium Bromide and Potassium Chloride are administered, thereby increasing the risk of suffering excruciating pain."


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    Okla. Considers Using Vet Drug To Execute Inmate

    Oklahoma is moving forward with plans to execute a prisoner despite a shortage of a drug used in lethal injections that has forced some states to temporarily halt executions.

    A hearing in federal court Friday will look at the implications of adopting a different drug, one used to euthanize animals, that has never been tested on people.

    Corrections officials in Oklahoma tried to find a dose of sodium thiopental to carry out the state's next execution. When they couldn't get it, they changed their protocol to allow the use of pentobarbital instead. The question before the federal court is whether substituting the new drug violates an inmate's Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

    Cruel And Unusual Punishment?

    Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, says it does not.

    "We believe that ... would meet all the constitutional requirements to carry out the execution," Massie said. "We do not believe it would be cruel and unusual punishment."

    Most states use a three-drug cocktail to carry out lethal injections: The first drug, the one that isn't available, is an anesthetic that renders a person unconscious; the second drug is a paralytic; and the third stops the heart.

    States outline exactly how the lethal injection process will take place, and some legal experts say officials can't just change the procedure at will.

    "The state is basically experimenting on the execution of a human being using a drug that's never been used before, and this is really a first," said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in New York.

    She says the court will look at many issues involving pentobarbital, which is used to euthanize animals. There are questions about the proper dose for people, and, Denno says, if the first drug in the cocktail does not work properly, it would be a violation of an inmate's rights.

    "There's consensus among experts, pro-death-penalty and anti-death-penalty experts alike, that if this drug [the anesthesia] is not effective ... the injection of the other two drugs would constitute cruel and unusual punishment because the inmate would be aware of the pain and suffering," she said.

    Drug Shortage

    John David Duty is set to be executed Dec. 16 in Oklahoma. While in prison, he strangled his cell mate.

    In court briefs filed on his behalf, attorneys argue that pentobarbital is unsafe and is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They say there have been numerous problems in executions across the country even with the drug that has been tested. Defense lawyers also say the new drug is not an ultra-short-acting barbiturate, as the law requires.

    Two states, Ohio and Washington, now use a single-drug protocol in executions, which means prisoners get a massive dose of sodium thiopental. Others are trying to figure out what to do while the drug shortage continues.

    "Some states have announced that they have an adequate supply of sodium thiopental," said Megan McCracken, Eighth Amendment counsel at the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley. "Other states have had trouble obtaining the drug and have either turned to other states to get it or, as we've learned recently, have had to seek it from a foreign source, from another country."

    Arizona officials carried out an execution in October with a dose they obtained from the United Kingdom. In California and Kentucky, executions are on hold because their doses expired. Tennessee officials recently obtained the drug but wouldn't say where they got it.

    The company that makes sodium thiopental, Hospira, has said it can't produce the drug this year, but it could be available early next year. In the meantime, legal experts suggest the Oklahoma proposal of using another more widely available anesthetic could set a new standard for lethal injection.


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    Oklahoma to continue using sedative in executions despite manufacturere's objections

    Ethical principles' behind Germany's refusal to export lethal injection drug to U.S.

    Oklahoma prison officials will continue using a sedative as part of the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol despite objections from the drug's manufacturer, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said Thursday.

    Denmark-based Lundbeck, Inc., producer of the drug pentobarbital, has said it opposes use of the drug in lethal injections and has sent a letter asking the Oklahoma and Ohio not to use it to put inmates to death.

    Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said prison officials had not seen the letter Thursday but "don't anticipate any changes."

    Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, and Diane Clay, spokeswoman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said members of their respective staffs also had not seen the letter and would withhold comment.

    Oklahoma has used the drug in three executions, including two earlier this month. No other executions are scheduled in the state, which used the pentobarbital as the 1st drug administered in its 3-drug lethal injection protocol. The other 2 drugs are vecuronium bromide, which stops respiration, and potassium chloride, which stops heart activity.

    Officials in Ohio announced Tuesday that they would switch to pentobarbital as the sole drug used to put inmates to death.

    Pentobarbital is a barbiturate used to induce comas during surgeries to prevent brain damage when blood flow is interrupted, and to reduce possible brain damage following strokes or head trauma. It is chemically related to the same product used to euthanize pets.

    Oklahoma and Ohio decided to switch to pentobarbital due to a national shortage of sodium thiopental, the drug previously administered. Lundbeck does not sell the product directly to end users and has no way of preventing either state from using the drug.

    Sodium thiopental's sole U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., also objected to the use of that drug in lethal executions and also had asked states not to use it. The company announced last week it was discontinuing the product.

    (source: Associated Press)

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    Bill OKs Substitute Drugs For Okla. Executions

    Oklahoma prison officials will have more flexibility to substitute the lethal drugs used to execute condemned inmates under a bill approved by a Senate panel.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that authorizes the Department of Corrections to use a lethal quantity of "drug or drugs" to execute inmates. Existing law requires the department to use an ultrashort acting barbiturate in combination with a paralytic agent.

    The state of Oklahoma had for years used the anesthetic sodium thiopental as the first in a three-drug cocktail to carry out the death penalty. But Oklahoma substituted pentobarbital last year after a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental.

    DOC general counsel Michael Oakley says the department has no plans to change its current protocol, which has been upheld in court.


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