Saturday, October 9, 2010

Judge Permits Oklahoma to Proceed with Execution

Drug Shortage Not a Factor in Next Week's Execution

A U.S District Court judge has authorised the state of Oklahoma to move forward with the October 14, 2010 execution of Donald Ray Wackerly, II. The August execution of Jeffrey David Matthews had been postponed because of a shortage of one of the three execution drugs.

According to the Daily Oklahoman, the main issue argued before Judge Stephen Friot was whether Oklahoma's short supply of a sedative, sodium thiopental, used during lethal injection was enough to move ahead with the execution.

Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol calls for the sedative to be administered first, followed by a drug to halt breathing, then a drug to stop the heart. There is apparently a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental.

Friot noted the dosage on hand of sodium thiopental is more than enough alone to cause death in most people. "There's no room for doubt in this case that the 5 grams of sodium thiopental would be independently lethal,” he said.

Friot cited Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), a Supreme Court case that found Kentucky's lethal injection method constitutional. He said Oklahoma's protocol was "far above” that of Kentucky's method for scrutinizing the safety and ensuring the execution is carried out humanely, according to the Oklahoman.

Interestingly, during previous hearings, prison officials said in light of the drug shortage they would use a different sedative on Wackerly. There doesn't appear to be any reason why Oklahoma or any other state could not use a different sedative. It was widely accepted that all executions were to be carried using the three drug protocol accepted by the Supreme Court in Baze. However, last year Ohio switched to a single drug, sodium thiopental, protocol. There have been no problems in Ohio.

Ohio has carried out a record number of executions so far in 2010. The state has a ninth execution scheduled for November. Maybe Ohio will decide to forge ahead with an alternative execution drug if a shortage persists.

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