A grand jury looking into a slew of botched execution procedures in Oklahoma delivered a scathing report Thursday, documenting the epic failure of the state for not providing the right lethal injection drugs, NBC News is reporting.
The blistering report revealed the chaos and recklessness in the Oklahoma execution system, which included a pharmacist who ordered the wrong chemicals and a top state official who argued that the wrong chemicals were not a big deal, telling a cynic to go and “Google it.”
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The grand jury wrote, “justice has been delayed for the victims’ families and the citizens of Oklahoma, and confidence further shaken in the ability of this State to carry out the death penalty.” Members of the jury went on to recommend that it was crucial to overhaul the present means of execution as well as introduce a different set of rules during executions. The panel’s findings were based on the January 2015 execution of Charles Warner and the abandoned execution of Richard Glossip in September of the same year.
The two men were meant to be executed via a lethal three-drug cocktail that included potassium chloride. In Warner’s case, his execution was bungled up when potassium acetate was used instead. Nobody even noticed that the executioners had made a mess of the procedure until the same drug was ordered for Glossip as well. The pharmacist, when found out, had blamed his mistake on the “pharmacy brain” – that is, focusing more on drug concentrations than drug names.
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Beyond the pharmacist’s mistake, the report explained that a wide range of Corrections Department officials had failed to recognize that the wrong drugs had been administered during Warner’s execution. The general counsel to the IV team leader also blamed the oversight on a calculation distraction. He said, “I’m not very good at math in my head. I just totally dropped the ball.”
It nearly happened again during Glossip’s execution.
The grand jury lambasted general counsel to the Oklahoma Governor, Steve Mullins, for pushing for the state to execute Glossip using potassium acetate. A prosecutor who had objected to the use of the drug was told by Mullins to go and “Google it” as a confirmation that potassium chloride and potassium acetate were similar.
When the mistake was discovered, Glossip’s execution was called off with officials hurriedly drafting a statement. In the announcement, Mullins said he denied using the phrase “wrong drug” in his explanation because it would misinform people that the wrong drug had been used in Warner’s execution.
Attorney Scott Pruitt acknowledged that the grand jury had recommended nitrogen hypoxia as a lethal injection replacement. Nitrogen hypoxia is a gas that deprives the brain of oxygen. The attorney said it was crystal-clear that the Corrections Department had fallen dreadfully short of doing its job. He said “a number of individuals responsible for carrying out the execution process were careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive of established procedures that were intended to guard against the very mistakes that occurred.”
Federal public defender Dale Baich said it was shameless that Oklahoma could not be trusted to get it right or tell the truth. He said the Warner situation again raised serious questions about the competency of the Department of Corrections to carry out executions. Richard Glossip’s execution was stayed when the mistake was found, and it later extended to two other inmates waiting on death-row, according to NBC News.
Executions were put on hold for nine months after executioners fumbled during death-row inmate Clayton Lockett’s lethal injection process. Lockett regained consciousness and twisted and turned in pain before eventually dying. Warner was the first to be put to death after Lockett’s controversial execution, and he also complained about the pain, saying, “my body is on fire…no one should go through this.”
[Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images]