Oklahoma's attorney general asked a court Thursday to delay putting an inmate to death in the wake of a botched execution at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary last month.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office said in a court filing Thursday that it would agree to a six-month stay of the execution of inmate Charles Warner, who was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection next week. An Oklahoma court will make the final determination on when the execution will go forward. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) only has authority to issue a 60-day stay on executions.
Warner's execution was delayed by two weeks after the bungled lethal injection of inmate Clayton Lockett late last month. Lockett died of an apparent heart attack after the vein where an IV was inserted collapsed, causing lethal drugs to either drip out or be absorbed into his tissue. Witnesses said Lockett writhed and convulsed on the execution table. Autopsy results are pending. Lockett was also Tasered and cut his own arm in the hours before the execution.
Warner was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old. Lockett was convicted of shooting and ordering the live burial of 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman. He was also convicted of rape and other charges. The attorney general's office has called for Warner's execution to be set for Nov. 13. It also asked the court Thursday to set an execution date for another inmate.
In the court filing, Pruitt said his office said the six-month moratorium will allow a review of Lockett's execution and the state's capital punishment protocols, ordered by Fallin, to be completed. The review will be carried out by the state's public safety secretary, Michael C. Thompson.
Fallin and Pruitt had said that executions in the state should be halted until the review is complete. Both Warner's lawyers and Robert Patton, the state's prisons chief, recommended that executions be put on hold indefinitely. Patton argued that employees will need more time to learn new protocols after the investigation is complete.
In the filing, Assistant Attorney General Seth S. Branham argues that an indefinite stay is "unwarranted" because the state has said it will notify the court if more time is needed to complete the investigation.
"Based on the totality of the circumstances, however, the Attorney General will not object to a 180 day stay by this Court to allow for the completion of Commissioner Thompson's investigation," Branham wrote. "If the investigation has been completed, the Attorney General will advise the Court of the appropriateness of the execution date in light of the mandate given to the Department of Corrections by the Governor to implement any needed changes or adjustments to its execution protocol, as recommended by Commissioner Thompson's investigation."
In a statement, Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the stay allows the review to take place and a jury's verdict to ultimately be carried out.
"The AG's Office agreed to a 180-day stay and has reiterated its position that no executions should occur until the review by Commissioner Michael Thompson is concluded. A 180-day stay of execution allows the review to proceed while providing certainty that the state carries out the lawful punishment handed down by a jury in accordance with the law," she said.
Warner's lawyer, Madeline Cohen, said she is pleased that Pruitt's office agreed that a stay should be implemented.
"We are very pleased that the AG agrees at least 6 months is necessary before any execution in Oklahoma can take place, given the need for a full investigation to be conducted into Clayton Lockett's agonizing botched execution, and the Department of Corrections' own recognition that protocol revisions and extensive retraining are necessary," Cohen wrote in an e-mail. "We hope the court will act quickly to enter the stay."
In the filing, Branham said that an indefinite stay is not warranted because Warner's attorneys failed "to challenge the execution protocol at issue," and rather challenged the state over how it keeps the providers of execution drugs secret.
"Warner's litigation conduct over the past sixty days demonstrates a strategic choice by his counsel to pursue an endless media campaign against capital punishment in Oklahoma instead of exhausting available remedies in the court," Branham wrote.
Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day, who are also attorneys for Lockett, said that the "extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection that led to Mr. Lockett’s agonizing death must be replaced with transparency in order to ensure that executions are legal and humane.”
Lockett's botched execution has revived a national debate over whether the death penalty is inhumane. President Obama, who supports the death penalty for heinous crimes, weighed in Friday, saying the Oklahoma case was "extremely troubling" and should prompt a re-examination of how executions are carried out.
There are “significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied” around the country, Obama said. “And this situation in Oklahoma, I think, just highlights some of the – the significant problems there.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said there "will definitely be litigation" in the wake of Lockett's death.
While there is some discomfort in the state over how the execution took place, many argue that Lockett got what he deserved.