FEATURED POST

In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

Image
To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

How Oklahoma’s execution protocol led to errors – and horrific consequences

Oklahoma Death Chamber
Oklahoma Death Chamber
Scathing report on botched execution underscores a ‘failed’ system rife with ‘negligence’ and raises the question of whether the state can be trusted

On 10 October 2014, the state of Oklahoma threw open the doors of its maximum-security McAlester prison to reporters – the Guardian among them – to show off its brand-new, state-of-the-art death chamber. The corrections department had invested $106,000 to create the perfect killing machine that deployed the latest advances in technology and science – ultra sound, heart and blood pressure monitors, digital intercom and cameras – to ensure painless and foolproof executions.

It was an important moment for Oklahoma, which had much to prove. Six months previously the state had conducted one of the most revolting executions in recent history. It had strapped Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer and rapist, to a gurney and over the next 43 minutes, proceeded to jab needles into him during which time he was witnessed writhing and groaning before he died.

It was in the wake of the Lockett horror show that the Oklahoma corrections department invited us in that bright October morning, to demonstrate to us – and through us the world – that it had learned the lessons of that terrible event. In the future, Oklahoma would use a fail-safe system of checks and balances to ensure that it killed its prisoners with propriety and dignity.

Fast forward to this week, and the grand jury report released on Thursday night. Its 106 pages tell a very different story.

The report reveals that within days of the tour of the state’s ultimate death chamber, state officials set in train a sequence of events that would lead to the execution of Charles Warner using entirely the wrong drug – without anyone even noticing.

In late October 2014, the director of the department of corrections met with a licensed doctor and paramedic who formed the team that would place the IV tubes into Warner’s veins through which he would be pumped with lethal drugs.

At the meeting, and in subsequent conversations, the director talked about the execution protocol and the drugs that were to be used, “but never provided the IV team leader [with] a written copy of the protocol”.

In fact, the paramedic told the grand jury that he had no idea what his role entailed until he was given hands-on training the day before Warner was to be put to death. Such was the paucity of preparation that he only realized his job was to help draw up the syringes on the day of the execution itself.

The report goes on to describe how lethal injection drugs were obtained by the state for the Warner execution, a complicated job given the tight ethical boycott of US corrections departments imposed by pharmaceutical companies and governments. Under the old execution protocol, three Oklahoma officials were required to go in person with a written prescription to procure lethal injection drugs.

In the Warner case, a senior corrections official identified only as “Warden A” ordered the drugs over the phone. In November 2014, only a month after the reporters’ tour of the pristine death chamber, the anonymous pharmacist in turn duly ordered five cartons of the sedative midazolam and six cases of potassium chloride solution, a toxic chemical that stops the prisoner’s heart.

The pharmacist used a wholesalers’ website to purchase the drugs, but in a mix-up ordered potassium acetate, a totally different chemical than the potassium chloride listed in the protocol. “In my head I was not thinking potassium chloride, because I was looking at it, going, it’s potassium. Pharmacy brain versus probably a law brain, I guess,” the pharmacist told the grand jury.

For the next 27 pages, the grand jury report describes the journey of the wrong drugs from the pharmacist’s premises into Warner’s veins in surreal detail, reading like a passage out of Alice Through the Looking Glass.


Source: The Guardian, May 20, 2016

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

New Hampshire: More than 50,000 anti-death penalty signatures delivered to Sununu

Texas: The accused Santa Fe shooter will never get the death penalty. Here’s why.

Post Mortem – the execution of Edward Earl Johnson

What Indiana officials want to keep secret about executions

China: Appeal of nanny's death penalty sentence wraps up

Ohio: Lawyers seek review of death sentence for 23-year-old Clayton man

In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

Texas prisons taking heat over aging execution drugs experts say could cause 'torturous' deaths

Texas executes Juan Castillo

Iraq court sentences Belgian jihadist to death for IS membership