This is a developing story. Check back for updates. For the most current updates, see this blog’s Twitter feed.
UPDATE: The execution of Clayton Lockett has been ‘botched’ according to his attorney and the execution of Charles Warner has been stayed. For the latest, see “Oklahoma’s Botched Execution
After weeks of legal wrangling and confusion in the courts, the way has been cleared for the Oklahoma Corrections Department to execute not one, but two men tonight, in what will be the first double execution in 14 years and and the first in Oklahoma since 1937. The last time two inmates were put to death in the same state in the same day was in Texas in 2000.
Thirty-eight-year-old Clayton Lockett was convicted in the shooting death of Stephanie Neiman in 1999. According to the Tulsa World, “Lockett shot Neiman twice with a shotgun before having an accomplice, Shawn Mathis, bury her alive.” Forty-six-year-old Charles Warner “was convicted in the 1997 death of his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter,” according to NBC News.
The state slated Lockett for execution at 6 p.m. central time, followed by Warner two hours later at 8 p.m. Lockett made a last meal request but it was denied because it exceeded the $15 dollar price limit. The warden offered him a steak dinner from Western Sizzlin instead, but Lockett declined.
— courtney francisco (@cjfrancisco) April 29, 2014
The unusual double execution, as well as the heated legal scuffling, has provoked concern and criticism both locally and nationwide. Accordingly, a group of protestors rallied outside the Governor’s mansion at the time of the first execution.
Photo by Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
The issue in the legal back and forth was not the inmates’ innocence, but rather over the secrecy surrounding the source of the drugs that would be used to execute them. Lawyers for both men argued that they had a right to know the manufacturer of the chemicals that will be used in their injections.
The drugs used in lethal injections have become the latest front in the fight against executions and the death penalty. Most execution drugs are made in Europe, and many European drug makers don’t like the idea of their products being used in executions. Others have had to face criticism from groups such as Reprieve, which actively seeks out information on who makes the drugs and makes that information public. This has caused many European drug makers to cease producing the drugs and/or refuse to sell them to prisons. So prisons and corrections departments are increasingly searching for new sources for the chemicals, or resort to compounding pharmacies, which according to The Guardian are less well regulated than traditional drug manufacturers. Corrections departments have also begun to create policies to protect the anonymity of the drug makers, presumably so the company won’t face the same public outcry the European companies faced.
(For a breakdown of the specific drugs at issue in Oklahoma, Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer has an excellent review here.)
These changes have caused concern among defense attorneys, who argue that without knowing the source of the drugs, there is a greater possibility that the chemicals are contaminated or expired, which would cause unnecessary suffering, which is unconstitutional under the eighth amendment. Charges like this have been filed in other states, such as Texas and Missouri (those claims were all rejected) but in Oklahoma, they provoked a whole new level of controversy, exposing “long-running tension among Oklahoma’s three branches of government,” according to Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy.
Andrew Cohen breaks down why things are so tense the best, so I’ll defer to him:
Things got complicated because there are two high courts in Oklahoma — one that focuses on “criminal” matters and one that focuses on “civil” matters. The criminal court, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, said it had no jurisdiction to look at the injection secrecy matter. The civil court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court, said that the Court of Criminal Appeals did have jurisdiction.
There was open conflict between the courts. The state Supreme Court criticized the Court of Criminal Appeals for not accepting the appeal and for not halting the executions. The criminal appeals court criticized the state Supreme Court for intruding upon what its judges considered the purely “criminal” matter of execution protocols.
The open warfare within the state judiciary — unseemly, in particular, in the context of capital cases — surely contributed to the chaos that came next.
Here’s my attempt at reconstructing a timeline of the back and forth. It gets a little weird, so try to keep up and if you spot any errors, shout them out in the comments.
- March: Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish rules that the secrecy of the drug source violates the inmates’ rights under the state constitution.
- Friday, April 18: The state appeals that ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, saying the ruling is “an ‘overbroad interpretation’ of the right to access,” according to The Guardian.
- The Oklahoma Supreme Court said they do not have the authority to stay the executions, and transferred the matter to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
- The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, saying THEY don’t have the authority to stay the executions, because the inmates challenged the execution procedures in civil court, not criminal. Their ruling also called out the state supreme court, as detailed by Jurist columnist Adam R. Banner: “As if it were not enough to defy the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s supposed ‘final’ determination of jurisdiction, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Supreme Court did ‘not have the power to supersede a statute and manufacture jurisdiction.’ “
- Monday, April 21: The State Supreme Court decides they now must say something, and after a 5-4 vote, issues a stay for Clayton Lockett, who was originally set for execution on April 22. “The ‘rule of necessity’ now demands that we step forward,” the Court’s opinion says. “We can deny jurisdiction, or we can leave the appellants with no access to the courts for resolution of their ‘grave’ constitutional claims….As uncomfortable as this matter makes us, we refuse to violate our oaths of office and to leave the appellants with no access to the courts, their constitutionally guaranteed measure.” The stay also puts Charles Warner’s execution on hold.
- Monday, April 21: From Andrew Cohen: “Just hours after the Oklahoma Supreme Court halted the executions, the Republican governor of the state, Mary Fallin, proclaimed that the executive branch would not honor the judicial stay preventing the executions. The Supreme Court’s ‘attempted stay of execution is outside the constitutional authority of that body,’ she declared, so ‘I cannot give effect to the order by that honorable court.’ “
- Tuesday, April 22: From Andrew Cohen: Republican state lawmaker Rep. Mike Christian, introduced impeachment proceedings against the five state Supreme Court justices who had voted for the stays of execution.
- Tuesday, April 22: From the Associated Press: “In a development reflecting the rising tension between the executive and judicial branches of state government, Gov. Mary Fallin granted a one-week stay of execution to Lockett on Tuesday afternoon, saying the Oklahoma Supreme Court overstepped its authority when it issued a separate stay. Fallin issued an executive order delaying Lockett’s execution until April 29. Fallin claims in her order that the stay issued by the state’s high court is ‘outside the constitutional authority of that body.’ “
- Wednesday, April 23: The State Supreme Court reject the lower court’s decision that preventing Lockett and Warner from knowing the source of the drugs used in their lethal injections will violate their constitutional rights, clearing the way for the executions to proceed.
Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, released a statement today in advance of her client’s execution, writing “tonight, in a climate of secrecy and political posturing, Oklahoma intends to kill two death row prisoners using an experimental new drug protocol, including a paralytic, making it impossible to know whether the executions will comport with the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual suffering. Because the issue of secrecy in lethal injection has not been substantively addressed by the courts, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner will be executed without basic information about the experimental combination of drugs used in their deaths.”