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Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Okla. Lethal Injection Procedure To Go Before Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review Oklahoma's lethal injection procedure, specifically the use of the controversial midazolam drug.

By Jake Godin | January 24, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge against Oklahoma’s lethal injection program, and whether it violates the 8th Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Oklahoma uses three drugs when administering lethal injections — midazolam, an anesthetic, vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, and finally, potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

The focus of the challenge to Oklahoma’s injection procedure is whether the first drug, midazolam, is effective at rendering a person unconscious.

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The move comes about a week after a 5-4 vote from the Supreme Court rejected a stay on the execution of Charles Warner, an Oklahoma inmate convicted for the murder and rape of an infant in 1997.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the court’s dissent when Warner’s stay of execution was denied earlier in January. In it, she questioned the state’s use of midazolam and whether it could reliably keep an inmate unconscious.

Oklahoma’s failed execution of Clayton Lockett last April used midazolam and took 43 minutes instead of the normal 10. Lockett eventually died of a massive heart attack. 

The state concluded it was not administered properly, though a toxicology report found there was more than enough of the drug in Lockett’s blood to render a person unconscious.

The botched execution garnered international press and resulted in a stay on executions in the state until an investigation was finished.

And Oklahoma’s not the only state to face criticism over its use of midazolam — Joseph Wood’s execution in Arizona last July ended up taking two hours and used the same drug.

The last time the Supreme Court made a ruling on lethal injection procedures was in 2008 when a Kentucky protocol was put under review. The court eventually found that the drug cocktail, which did not include midazolam, was constitutional.

This video includes images from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and James Heilman / CC BY 3.0.

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