Oklahoma seeks execution dates for seven men

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has tentatively scheduled executions for seven men in five months, starting in October and continuing into February. If carried out, they will be the first executions in the state since 2015.
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Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has tentatively scheduled executions for seven men in five months, starting in October and continuing into February. If carried out, they will be the first executions in the state since 2015.

These seven were part of a group of death row prisoners who challenged the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection protocol, which calls for the use of three drugs used sequentially: midazolam, vecuronium bromide (a paralytic), and potassium chloride (to induce cardiac arrest). The prisoners’ principal objection concerns midazolam, which is not a reliable painkiller.

In response, last month, a federal district court required the prisoners to designate an alternative method of execution. Twenty-six prisoners complied and won the right to take the case to trial. The seven who didn’t are scheduled to be executed.

“The Eighth Amendment challenges to the State’s execution method of these seven prisoners were dismissed on August 11 not because they lacked merit, but because the court found those prisoners had not proposed an alternative method for their own executions,” lawyers for the seven men said.

And Assistant Federal Public Defender Dale Baich stated, “Oklahoma has a checkered history when it comes to carrying out executions. The drug protocol that was problematic seven years ago is the same one the state seeks to use again. Given that history and the unresolved questions about the constitutionality of the state’s execution protocol that are pending before the federal district court, Oklahoma should not move forward with any executions at this time. To allow executions to proceed when there is a chance the court could find a constitutionally unacceptable risk that a person could suffer because of the drug combination used is just plain wrong.”

Attorneys also note that the cases of the men scheduled for execution “involve mental illness, racism, abuse, and innocence.”

These are the men the state is planning to execute and background information on five of them:

Clemency hearings for the prisoners will be held 21 days before their scheduled executions, pending an order from the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals allowing them to go forward.

It’s additionally troubling that Julius Jones’ execution date is scheduled. Jones, who has very real claims to innocence, was arrested in 1999 for killing 45-year-old Paul Howell in a carjacking. Jones, who was 19 and a student at the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship, was arrested with Christopher Jordan, a suspected gang member. After their arrest, Jordan pointed to Jones as the shooter. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison and released after serving 15. Jones was sentenced to death.

His trial was tainted by racial bias and prosecutorial misconduct. None of his three public defenders had defended a death penalty case before, and they presented no witnesses on his behalf during the trial. Court filings indicate that a juror reported that another juror said, “They should just take that [n-word] out and shoot him behind the jail.” The juror reportedly informed the judge of the comment, but the judge did not take any action.

Jones has a second commutation hearing scheduled before the Pardon and Parole Board on September 13. The board anticipates having the commutation hearing wrapped into Jones’ clemency hearing tentatively scheduled for October 5.

Gov. Kevin Stitt will get the final say in the case if the board recommends commuting Jones’ sentence. 

Executions in Oklahoma have been on hold since 2015, while a grand jury investigated the execution of Charles Warner, who was given the wrong drug in his lethal injection, and the near-execution of Richard Glossip, whose cocktail also contained the wrong drug. Those mistakes occurred after the horribly botched 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014. Its report, released in May 2016, was scathing in its criticism of how state officials had handled its executions. A year later, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released a 300-page report, stating that many of the findings of the Commission’s year-long investigation “were disturbing and led Commission members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death.”

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