Oklahoma need not delay planned executions, judge rules

·2 min read

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) -Oklahoma need not delay a planned resumption of executions set for this week while a court case challenging the state's three-drug protocol for killing condemned inmates is adjudicated, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Judge Stephen Friot of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma denied five death row prisoners' request for a preliminary injunction after a hearing Monday. Lawyers for the inmates, including one whose execution is scheduled Thursday, immediately appealed.

The lack of reprieve for the five inmates including John Grant, whose execution has been set for Thursday, comes even as support for the death penalty is diminishing nationwide.

Thirty-six U.S. states and the District of Columbia have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in the past 10 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Oklahoma has not carried out executions in six years, since three botched attempts ending with the death of Charles Frederick Warner in 2015. Warner, who was convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-month-old baby, was executed using the wrong drug, officials said later.

The previous year, Clayton Lockett, convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping, regained consciousness and raised his head after the execution procedure began, only to die in apparent anguish less than an hour later, court records show.

Also in 2014, condemned inmate Michael Wilson's final words were, "I feel my whole body burning," attorneys wrote in a lawsuit challenging the execution procedure.

"The district court itself has acknowledged serious questions about whether Oklahoma's execution procedures will cause prisoners unconstitutional pain and suffering," Dale Baich, an attorney for the inmates, said in a statement. "With a trial on that very question set to begin in February, executions should not go forward."

Thirty-two death row inmates in Oklahoma joined the lawsuit, which is set for trial next February. Six of them, including Grant and Julius Jones, who for decades has maintained his innocence and whose case has drawn the attention of celebrities, were removed from the lawsuit by a judge, leading the state to schedule execution dates.

A federal appeals court reinstated them to the suit on Oct. 15, prompting their attorneys to request the execution dates be postponed.

A spokesperson for Oklahoma Attorney General John M. O'Connor said he had no comment on Monday, before the ruling. O'Connor's representatives could not be reached for comment after the ruling was issued.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta and Julia Harte. Editing by Donna Bryson, Karishma Singh and Lincoln Feast.)

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