Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol is constitutional and the state can proceed with the scheduled executions of four death row inmates between January 15 and March 5, reported The Associated Press.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot denied a request for a preliminary injunction that was requested by a group of Oklahoma death row inmates. The prisoners argued the use of the sedative midazolam as the first drug in a three-drug combination the state administers risks subjecting them to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.
Medical experts called by attorneys for the death row inmates testified that midazolam won't properly anesthetize a person and render the individual unconscious for the second drug, which causes them to suffocate, and a third which would cause a burning pain before stopping the heart.
Dale Baich, one of the attorneys for the Oklahoma death row inmates, said in a statement they plan to appeal Friot's decision.
"As anesthesiologists and other medical experts have detailed, our primary concern is the use of midazolam, a drug that is inappropriate for use in executions because it does not relieve pain and does not maintain prisoners at an adequate level of anesthesia," Baich said. "And because Oklahoma plans to paralyze condemned prisoners after giving them midazolam, it is likely we often will not know if the prisoners were medically and constitutionally anesthetized or if they suffered."
The inmates sued after the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, mumbled and lifted his head during his 43-minute execution that the state tried to halt before it was over. Lockett's execution was the first in Oklahoma using midazolam, which also has been used in problematic executions in Ohio and Arizona.
Judge Friot said in his ruling from the bench that he placed "considerable reliance" on the ability of the execution team to have a backup IV line, to constantly monitor the IV lines, and to ensure that an inmate is unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered.
In addition to adopting a new execution protocol, Oklahoma has bought new medical equipment and ordered more training for the execution team. Prison officials say they're prepared for the upcoming executions.
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