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Death Row Inmates: Execution Would be 'Biological Experimentation'

Oklahoma prisoners charge their execution would be unconstitutional following botched killing in April

Photo: Ken Piorkowski/cc/flickr

Following a botched execution in Oklahoma, death row prisoners in the state are arguing their executions would qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, and thus be unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit filed by the prisoners' lawyers in federal court on Wednesday.

"By attempting to conduct executions with an ever-changing array of untried drugs of unknown provenance, using untested procedures, the Defendants are engaging in a program of biological experimentation on captive and unwilling human subjects," the complaint states. "The Defendants’ most recent experiment, on Clayton Lockett, was a failure that produced severe pain, needless suffering, and a lingering death."

On April 29 of this year, Lockett died 43 minutes after he was injected using a three-drug cocktail. First, Lockett did not lose consciousness for 10 minutes after he was injected, and then for three minutes he attempted to raise his head to speak from the gurney he was strapped to, after which curtains were pulled in front of the windows through which viewers were watching the execution.

The complaint charges that, as evidenced in Lockett's case, the state's current protocols for lethal injections are not sufficient enough to ensure that prisoners will not suffer during their executions. According to the complaint, the problems with the current methods include, among other things, the state's self-admitted failure to consult with experts before using the three separate drugs, the fact that it changed the injection procedure three times in the two months before the execution and the lack of a backup IV.


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The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 21 prisoners in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against the state’s corrections director, the state penitentiary warden, members of the state board of corrections and unnamed medical officials involved in the lethal injection process. Both the names of those directly involved in executing prisoners and the supplier of lethal injection drugs are secret under state law.

The prisoners are not challenging the validity of their sentences, according to the complaint, but "only the way in which their sentences of death will be carried out by the defendants.”

Oklahoma's next execution is scheduled for November 13. The prisoner, Charles Warner, was originally scheduled to die two hours after Lockett, but his execution was postponed after the Lockett's botched execution.


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