Wrong drug's use in execution prompts concerns from governor
Oklahoma City (AP) — Gov. Mary Fallin agreed Thursday that all executions in Oklahoma should be delayed after a newspaper revealed that the wrong drug was used to stop an inmate's heart in January. Authorities didn't acknowledge the mistake until The Oklahoman obtained the autopsy report.
Fallin said in a statement Thursday that "it became apparent" during discussions with prison officials last week that the Department of Corrections used potassium acetate — not potassium chloride, as required under the state's protocol — to execute Charles Frederick Warner in January.
"Until we have complete confidence in the system, we will delay any further executions," Fallin said.
Citing Warner's autopsy report, The Oklahoman reported Thursday that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner received two syringes labeled "potassium chloride," but that the 12 vials used to fill the syringes were labeled "single dose Potassium Acetate Injection."
That contradicts the official log of Warner's Jan. 15 execution, initialed by a prison staffer, which indicated that the state properly used potassium chloride to stop his heart, according to a copy of the log obtained by The Associated Press.
"We cannot trust Oklahoma to get it right or tell the truth," said Dale Baich, an attorney representing Oklahoma death row inmates who are challenging the state's lethal injection protocols. "We will explore this in detail through the discovery process in the federal litigation."
Fallin declined to say Thursday if she still has confidence in prisons director Robert Patton. She said she would wait until Attorney General Scott Pruitt completes an investigation into both Warner's execution and last week's mix-up.
"I want to let the attorney general do his job first, tell us what's factual and what's not, give us the information, and then we'll make a judgment then," Fallin said.
Patton oversaw both Warner's execution and the April 2014 lethal injection of Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, moaned and pulled up from his restraints in April 2014. Execution team members considered trying to save his life and even taking Lockett to an emergency room before he finally died, 43 minutes after his initial injection.
Warner had been scheduled to be put to death the same night, until Lockett's execution went awry.
The next inmate scheduled to die, Richard Glossip, came within hours of his lethal injections last week before prison officials informed the governor that they had received potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride from a pharmacist, whose identity is shielded by state law.
Potassium chloride, which stops the heart, is the final drug in the state's three-drug protocol, following the application of a sedative, midazolam; and a paralytic, rocuronium bromide, which prevents normal breathing.
Patton said last week that prison authorities discovered the error and immediately contacted the supplier, "whose professional opinion was that potassium acetate is medically interchangeable with potassium chloride at the same quantity."
But Dr. Alice Chen, an internal medicine specialist and executive director of Doctors for America, told the AP that the two drugs are not interchangeable. "We're not certain what the dose should be, how different people would react to it in the cocktail," she said.
After the first drug was administered during Warner's execution, he said, "My body is on fire." But he showed no other obvious signs of distress.
Fallin said she was not told that the wrong drug may have been used to execute Warner until last week.
"I was not aware, nor was anyone in my office aware, of that possibility until the day of Richard Glossip's scheduled execution," she said. "It is imperative that the attorney general obtain the information he needs to make sure justice is served competently and fairly."
Last week, the Death Penalty Information Center said potassium acetate had never been used in a U.S. execution.
By Sean Murphy, Associated Press. Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Gayly – October 8, 2015 @ 2:50pm.