Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The court said last week that it would consider the constitutionality of using midazolam. (Photo: AP)

As Court Stays Executions, Rights Group Says 'End the Death Penalty'

Pending results of legal challenge to lethal injection cocktail in Oklahoma, Supreme Court stays executions for three men

Jon Queally

Pending the outcome of a challenge to the drug cocktail being used by the state of Oklahoma to carry out death sentences, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday issued stays of execution for three men, including one slated to be killed Thursday.

"Rather than continuing a practice that has been abandoned in all but a few counties—and risking more botched executions—Oklahoma should join the national trend and end the death penalty.” —Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International

As Common Dreams reported earlier this week, the challenge in Oklahoma centers around the inclusion of a drug called midazolam in the lethal injection cocktail now being used in the state's executions. After a series of botched executions—evidenced by prolonged episodes in which those injected writhed in pain—a number of death row inmates initiated a challenge to the state's use of the drug combination saying it amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment" and an affront to protections offered by the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

In a single sentence order, the nation's highest court announced, "it is hereby ordered that petitioners' executions using midazolam are stayed pending final disposition of this case."

According to the Associated Press:

Both the state and lawyers for three inmates had asked the court to postpone the executions of Richard Glossip, who had been scheduled to die Thursday night, and two others who were scheduled for lethal injection in the coming weeks.

Glossip and three other inmates challenged Oklahoma's lethal injection procedures last year, saying the sedative midazolam might not sufficiently mask pain as their hearts and lungs shut down. The justices agreed to take up their case, but not until after one of the inmates was executed two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, the justices said Oklahoma could not execute inmates using midazolam while the case is pending. The case will be argued before the court in April and decided by late June.

Dale Baich, an attorney representing the inmates, said, "We welcome today’s ruling staying executions in Oklahoma until the court can address serious questions about the state’s risky lethal injection protocol."

"Midazolam is an inappropriate drug to use in executions," he added.

Death penalty opponents also welcomed the news.

Speaking on behalf of Amnesty International USA, the group's executive director Steven W. Hawkins said the court was right to put a hold on the executions in Oklahoma, but also went further as he put into question the entire death penalty system in the United States.

"The recent botched executions in Oklahoma and other states show the US’s capital punishment system is broken beyond repair," Hawkins said. "The death penalty must be replaced with a system that comports with our sense of decency and the US’s obligations under international law. Rather than continuing a practice that has been abandoned in all but a few counties—and risking more botched executions—Oklahoma should join the national trend and end the death penalty.”


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Bloodbath': At Least 6 Dead, Dozens Wounded in Mass Shooting at Illinois July 4th Parade

"What freedom do we have if we fear being gunned down at a parade?" asked one progressive politician horrified by the reported carnage.

Brett Wilkins ·


On This July 4th, Abortion Rights Movement Says 'We're Not in the Mood for Fireworks'

"If we don’t have the ability to make decisions about if, when, and how to grow our families—we don't have freedom."

Brett Wilkins ·


Deadly Glacier Collapse in Italy 'Linked Directly to Climate Change'

At least seven people were killed when a glacier slid down a mountainside near a popular climbing route in the Alps on Sunday.

Julia Conley ·


'Organized Whitewash': US Claims Israeli Military's Murder of Journalist Not Intentional

"The odds that those responsible for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh will be held to account are all but nonexistent," said the human rights group B'Tselem in response to findings of U.S. State Department.

Brett Wilkins ·


Hundreds March in Akron Enraged by Police Killing of Jayland Walker

"The police can do whatever they want," said one local resident through tears. "They can take our children's lives and think it's okay."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo