Court review postpones Oklahoma executions

Deborah Denno in Sky News (Australia), June 18, 2014

Media Source

Court review postpones Oklahoma executions

Two executions have been postponed at the 11th hour to await a ruling from the US Supreme Court, delaying what would have been the first since a botched lethal injection.

The procedure in Oklahoma on April 29 left a death-row inmate writhing in pain, and so far each execution slated to take place since has been delayed.

The Supreme Court was expected to rule later on Tuesday (local time) on the appeal from Marcus Wellons, on death row in Georgia for killing and raping a 15-year-old girl he snatched on her way to school.

In the second case, John Winfield, convicted of killing two women, had been due to be put to death at 12am on Wednesday (1500 AEST) in Missouri.

The top court has until the end of the day on Wednesday to rule in that appeal.

Either execution could go forward as soon as the high court gives its ruling, if it decides against the defendants.

A third execution is also scheduled for 6pm on Wednesday in the southern state of Florida.

Under Georgia and Missouri law, as in Oklahoma, authorities are not required to disclose certain details of drugs used in the lethal injections or of the team who will carry out the death penalty.

Although Georgia uses the anaesthetic pentobarbital in its injection cocktail, the drug is apparently made by a compounding pharmacy unaccredited at the federal level.

'There's not sufficient information provided on where they're getting the pentobarbital,' said Deborah Denno, a lethal injection expert and Fordham University law professor.

'The secrecy laws prevent the kind of information that we need to even discuss the issue,' she added.

US states using the death penalty have faced crisis over shortages of lethal injection drugs after European suppliers stopped supplying pentobarbital for use in executions.

The shortages have prompted prison departments in the 32 states that still allow the death penalty to seek new supply sources or new drug protocols.

In Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett, a convicted killer and rapist, was put to death by lethal injection in a process that took 43 minutes, well over the expected time of a little over 10 minutes.

An independent autopsy found that the medical team failed to set an IV multiple times and ultimately perforated a vein.

This, says Denno, 'definitely shows that there's problems with the execution team, with people who simply don't know what they're doing.'