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Oklahoma plans to execute an inmate nearly every month until 2025

A gurney in the execution chamber at the state penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., in 2014. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin McDugle was from Texas.

Oklahoma plans to execute 25 prisoners in the next 29 months after ending a moratorium spurred by botched lethal injections and legal battles over how it kills death row inmates.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday set the execution dates for six prisoners in response to a request by Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor (R) in mid-June. The court later added dates for an additional 19 prisoners for a total representing more than half of the state’s 44-person death row population.

After a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled in early June that the state’s three-drug lethal-injection protocol was constitutional, O’Connor made his request, saying in filings that the prisoners had exhausted their criminal appeals. O’Connor argued for imminent execution dates as a matter of justice for the family members of those who were killed. In a statement, O’Connor noted that the earliest kill by a prisoner on Oklahoma’s death row was committed in 1993.

Oklahoma death row inmate convulsed, vomited during lethal injection, witness says, as state resumes executions

The first execution is scheduled for Aug. 25, with subsequent executions scheduled for about once every four weeks through 2024. In Oklahoma, prisoners are automatically granted a clemency hearing within 21 days of their scheduled execution, at which point the state’s pardon and parole board can recommend the governor grant a prisoner a reprieve from death row.

The scheduled flurry of executions is expected to draw Oklahoma back into familiar territory: the center of the nation’s death penalty debate.

The first drug Oklahoma administers in its lethal-injection protocol, the sedative midazolam, has prompted legal challenges by prisoners arguing that it fails to reliably render them unconscious, raising the likelihood of an execution that would be considered “cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The state suspended executions in 2015 after the botched lethal injections of Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett in which a still-conscious Warner cried out, “My body is on fire.” Lockett writhed for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack.

Oklahoma lethal injection process muddled by ‘inexcusable failure,’ grand jury finds

Several of the Oklahoma prisoners scheduled for execution have strong innocence claims, histories of intellectual disability that should disqualify them from the death penalty or cases that have claims of racial bias, their lawyers say.

Among them is Richard Glossip, whose 2015 case against the state’s lethal injection protocol went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in the state’s favor. His assertion of innocence has not only made him one of the more high-profile death row cases in the United States but has also won him support from Republican lawmakers in the state who object to his execution, scheduled for September.

Glossip’s attorney on Friday filed a motion for post-conviction relief, a type of appeal that cites new evidence that was not available during his original 1998 trial. Last month, the law firm Reed Smith released an independent investigation on Glossip’s case commissioned by a committee of lawmakers led by Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin McDugle (R). It found “grave” concerns with Glossip’s conviction, including allegations that Oklahoma City police, at the direction of prosecutors, intentionally destroyed evidence favorable to Glossip.

“The facts and evidence that we now know in this case prove Richard Glossip is an innocent man,” Glossip’s attorney Don Knight said in a statement Friday. “We urge the State of Oklahoma to grant this request for post-conviction relief based on the abundance of new evidence that has never before been evaluated by a judge or jury.”

Glossip was sentenced to death in 1998 after being convicted of a murder-for-hire scheme against Barry Van Treese, a motel owner who was Glossip’s boss.

Glossip, who has received several last-minute reprieves, including a near-botched execution in 2016, prompted the state to shutter its death chamber for five years. A grand jury investigation that year found “inexcusable failures” in the state’s death-penalty protocol.

In a 2020 court hearing, lawyers for the state said the Oklahoma Department of Corrections had addressed lapses with training for executions “to ensure what happened in the past won’t happen again.”

The following year, the state carried out its first execution since 2015. According to witnesses, the prisoner, John Marion Grant, went into full-body convulsions and vomited before dying.