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Supreme Court delays three upcoming Oklahoma executions

Inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to stay three upcoming executions in Oklahoma, postponing them until after the justices consider the issue of lethal injection in the state.

Last week, the justices said they would hear arguments over Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures in response to a petition filed by the three inmates set for execution. The first of these executions was scheduled for Thursday.

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, had asked the court to postpone the executions, and attorneys for the three inmates had agreed. Pruitt has vowed to defend the state’s lethal injection protocol.

The stay announced Wednesday, which was issued by the full court, says that “executions using midazolam” are stayed until the justices hear the issue. The justices are going to consider whether the protocol used by Oklahoma violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, a concern that centers on the use of the sedative midazolam in lethal injections.

Oklahoma adopted its current lethal injection procedure last year after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who grimaced and kicked during a procedure that was widely criticized. The new policy involves a higher dose of midazolam, matching the amount that Florida has used since 2013.

The botch in Oklahoma was one of three problematic lethal injections carried out last year that involved midazolam, drawing additional scrutiny to the way lethal injections are carried out in the United States.

Since the court last considered lethal injection, states have turned to a variety of drug combinations due to a shortage, which means Oklahoma and other states no longer use the protocol the justices considered and upheld in 2008.