OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma court on Tuesday rescheduled a pair of executions set for this week and next so state prison officials will have more time to find a supply of drugs for the lethal injections.
Two inmates had sued the state seeking more information about the drugs that would be used to execute them later this month, but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said their request for a stay was moot because the state Department of Corrections doesn't have enough drugs on hand to carry out their death sentences.
"The attorney general's attestations give this court no confidence that the state will be able to procure the necessary drugs before the scheduled executions are carried out," the court wrote.
Clayton Lockett was to have been executed Thursday and Charles Warner on March 27. In their lawsuit, they said they feared the drugs to be used might be contaminated and cause them undue harm in violation of a constitutional guarantee against cruel or unusual punishment.
The judges didn't rule on the merit of their stay request but pushed their executions back a month — Lockett to April 22 and Warner to April 29. A separate court has a hearing set for Thursday on whether it is proper for the state to keep execution procedures behind a "veil of secrecy."
In briefs filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday, the state attorney general's office said prison officials were having difficulty finding pentobarbital, a sedative, and vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant. The state also uses potassium chloride to stop an inmate's heart.
"The state declared it had pursued 'every feasible option to obtain the necessary execution drugs' but its 'Herculean' efforts so far had been unsuccessful," the court wrote.
State lawyers warned that, if it is required to find different drugs, it would have to write a new execution protocol that would likely face another court challenge.
Judge Gary L. Lumpkin dissented in part from Tuesday's decision. He said the inmates had failed to meet their burden for a stay but said the court shouldn't have granted a delay because the state hadn't asked for one.