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OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma is moving forward with new protocols for executing death row inmates, despite a unanimous recommendation from a bipartisan study group that a moratorium on the death penalty remain in place, the state's new attorney general said Wednesday.
Republican Mike Hunter said while he respects the independent work of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission , he "respectfully disagrees" with the panel's findings.
"We're going to get a handle on the execution process," Hunter said. "There's new management at the (Department of Corrections), and I'm confident they're going to come up with a new execution protocol and that we'll move forward after that."
The 11-member commission, led by former Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, released a nearly 300-page report on Tuesday that had more than 40 recommendations related to the death penalty, including several on the execution process itself. The panel suggested those recommendations should be implemented before executions resume.
Hunter said he believes Oklahoma voters sent a clear message in November when they approved with 66 percent of the vote a state question to enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution.
"I believe in democracy ... and the people in the state spoke very clearly with respect to the death penalty and its applicability to capital offenses in the state," Hunter said.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Oklahoma has executed more people per capita than any other state. But a moratorium was imposed following a botched execution in 2014 and drug mix-ups during two other scheduled lethal injections in 2015. A multicounty grand jury empaneled by Hunter's predecessor, Scott Pruitt, looked into the drug mix-ups and made a series of recommendations last year about how the protocols should be revised.
The attorney general's office has said in court filings that it will not request any execution dates until at least 150 days — or about 5 months — after the new protocols are released. Meanwhile, 15 death row inmates in Oklahoma have exhausted all of their appeals and are awaiting execution dates.
Oklahoma and some other death penalty states have turned to new lethal injection drugs amid opposition from drug manufacturers to their products being used to execute people.
The commission recommended Oklahoma return to using a single dose of a barbiturate for executions instead of the current three-drug method that has been used for the last several scheduled executions. But the multicounty grand jury suggested Oklahoma consider developing protocols for the use of nitrogen gas, a method approved by the Oklahoma Legislature two years ago but that has never been used to execute humans.
Both Hunter and prison officials have declined to say whether the new protocols will include the option of nitrogen gas.
"Where we are is we're finalizing the protocol with the DOC, and that will be released to the public, hopefully in the very near future," Hunter said. "Given that, I'll reserve comment on it until we get it finalized and it's released."
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