Skip to main content

Oklahoma executions back on, as court rules to keep lethal-drug sources secret

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
updated 7:30 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Clayton Lockett, left, and Charles Warner are scheduled to be executed next week in McAlester, Oklahoma.
Clayton Lockett, left, and Charles Warner are scheduled to be executed next week in McAlester, Oklahoma.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Inmates had challenged state clause keeping source of lethal injection drugs secret
  • Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner are now scheduled to be executed Tuesday
  • Defense attorney says there's no way to know if executions will be "humane"
  • States scrambled for new drugs after European manufacturers announced ban last year

CNN's original series "Death Row Stories" explores America's capital punishment system. Join the conversation about the death penalty at facebook.com/cnn or Twitter @CNNorigSeries using #DeathRowStories.

(CNN) -- Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner's executions are back on the schedule for next week after Oklahoma's high court lifted their stays, saying they had no right to know the source of the drugs that will be used to kill them.

The inmates, who are being held at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where they are slated to be executed by lethal injection Tuesday, had challenged the state's so-called secrecy provision, which forbids disclosing the identities of anyone involved in the execution process or suppliers of any drugs or medical equipment.

Lockett and Warner also challenged the state Department of Corrections' failure to divulge which drugs would be used, but the department disclosed what drugs it intended to use before the high court's decision: midazolam, which causes unconsciousness, along with pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which shut down breathing and the heart.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court said the only remaining issue, then, is whether the state's failure to disclose its source for the drugs prevents the prisoners from challenging their executions using the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The court decided it did not.

"This court holds that the secrecy provision ... does not violate the inmates' constitutional right of access to the courts," the Wednesday ruling said.

Lethal Injection: The process
Final death warrant
Mother slaps, then forgives son's murderer
'Are they gonna kill me?'
Mexican president talks with CNN

Attorney Seth Day, who represents both men, called the ruling unacceptable and told CNN affiliate KFOR that there was no way to know if the prisoners' executions "would be carried out in a constitutional and humane manner."

"It's not even known whether the lethal injection drugs to be used were obtained legally, and nothing is known about their source, purity, or efficacy, among other questions," he told the station. "Oklahoma's extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection undermines our courts and democracy."

Attorney General Scott Pruitt applauded the decision, saying the state had a longstanding precedent of keeping the drug sources secret to avoid "schemes and intimidation used by defense counsel and other anti-death-penalty groups."

"These death row inmates have not contested their guilt for murdering two innocent victims nor have they contested their sentences of death. The legal wrangling of the attorneys for Lockett and Warner has served only to delay their punishment for the heinous crimes they committed," he told KFOR.

Lockett was convicted in 2000 of a bevy of crimes, including first-degree murder, first-degree rape, kidnapping and robbery in a 1999 home invasion and crime spree that left Stephanie Nieman dead and two people injured. In 2003, Warner was convicted for the 1997 first-degree rape and murder of his then-girlfriend's 11-month-old daughter, Adrianna Waller.

The constitutionality of lethal injection drugs and drug cocktails has made headlines since last year, when European manufacturers -- including Denmark-based Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital -- banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions. Thirty-two states were left to find new drug protocols.

"The states are scrambling to find the drugs," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, said in November. "They want to carry out these executions that they have scheduled, but they don't have the drugs and they're changing and trying new procedures never used before in the history of executions."

If Lockett and Warner are executed next week, they would be the 194th and 195th inmates Oklahoma has executed since 1915.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
She depends on her iPhone and plays Plants vs. Zombies. At 75, death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean hasn't slowed down.
updated 6:46 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
As manufacturers cut off supplies of lethal injection drugs, states look for new drug combinations for executions.
updated 2:21 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
One death has reopened the debate about capital punishment and lethal injection.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
An infographic illustrates America's record on executions by race, state, year and method since the death penalty was reinstated more than 30 years ago.
updated 8:03 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
More than 14,000 people have been executed under U.S. law. About 3,000 more are slated for execution on death rows across the nation.
updated 7:16 AM EDT, Mon September 8, 2014
Clayton Lockett's botched lethal injection and deadly heart attack raises disturbing questions about how the U.S. executes death row prisoners.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Sat April 5, 2014
After John Thompson survived 14 years on death row he had to figure out how to return to the world.
updated 9:46 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Just weeks away from execution, see the evidence that saved John Thompson's life.
updated 6:23 PM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
Death row inmate John Thompson describes his reaction after Louisiana set his official execution date.
updated 6:24 PM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
A first-time meeting between death row inmate John Thompson and his appellate lawyers yields mutual skepticism.
updated 6:24 PM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
Death row inmate John Thompson confronts a proposed shift in legal strategy aimed at saving his life.
updated 5:30 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Teresa McAbee, age 11, was found dead, floating in a Florida lake. Repercussions from her murder continue nearly 30 years later.
updated 5:38 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Longtime Miami-area homicide detective Marshall Frank has met some really bad people. He reveals three steps to coax killers to confess their crimes.
updated 4:11 PM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
A mother convicted of a murder to which her son has confessed won't be executed Thursday as judges review her post-conviction motion.
updated 6:17 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Never imprisoned before, ex-cop James Duckett describes his first moments as a convicted killer on death row.
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
Why wasn't a key piece of evidence shown to jurors? Can a simple notebook prove a man's innocence?
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
A retired homicide detective examines the strange case of an ex-cop sentenced to death row for the murder of an 11-year-old girl.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
He's been a priest, a nurse and an attorney -- but nothing could prepare Neil Kookoothe for his discovery in the case of Joe D'Ambrosio.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
Joe D'Ambrosio, like many inmates, claimed he was innocent. As he learned, claiming it is one thing. Proving it is another.
updated 12:06 PM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
Although his conviction was overturned, prosecutors tried to keep an ex-death row inmate locked up before his new trial.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Why did Joyce Ride, mother of NASA's first woman in space, fight to free Gloria Killian? "I'm profoundly annoyed by injustice."
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Tue March 11, 2014
Judge the murder case against former law student Gloria Killian for yourself. Take a look at the evidence.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
When police questioned an unwitting Gloria Killian after a brutal murder, she used a poor choice of words.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Well into her 32-years-to-life murder sentence, Gloria Killian met a friend on the outside who was willing to listen.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Prison lifer Gloria Killian's defense team finds a previously unknown letter that may help win her freedom.
updated 4:10 PM EST, Fri March 7, 2014
Legal intern Diana Holt refused to believe that death row inmate Edward Lee Elmore was a killer. So began the fight of their lives.
updated 7:31 AM EST, Fri March 7, 2014
Examine the evidence in the murder case against Edward Lee Elmore.
updated 4:30 PM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
Three weeks before his execution date, Edward Lee Elmore asked his attorney a heartbreaking question. Watch her tearful response.
updated 4:28 PM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
Diana Holt was searching for alternate suspects in a brutal murder case. What she discovered made her head spin.
updated 1:51 PM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
A law student was sent to meet a death row inmate accused of a horrible murder. Their meeting triggered the beginning of an amazing story.
updated 4:16 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Virtual "killing sprees" in Iran and Iraq led to a spike in the number of executions globally last year, according to Amnesty International.
updated 6:15 PM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Watch a frank, online discussion about the death penalty and the case of Edward Lee Elmore.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Thu August 22, 2013
Some death penalty opponents will admit it: the worst of the worst of the worst, DO deserve to die.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
Execution chamber
Killing people by lethal injection will soon be as old as burning heretics at the stake -- at least in the civilized world.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Before Ohio executed him by legal injection, inmate Dennis McGuire appeared to gasp and convulse.
updated 1:58 PM EDT, Tue June 18, 2013
Death row inmates deal with demons in different ways. William Van Poyck chose to write.
updated 12:54 AM EST, Thu December 19, 2013
A shortage of lethal injection drugs contributes to a dip in the use of capital punishment.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT