New Oklahoma AG seeks to slow pace of lethal injections

Jan 17, 2023, 8:23 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2023, 1:30 pm
In this Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond arrives for inaugura...

In this Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond arrives for inauguration ceremonies in Oklahoma City. Drummond is seeking to slow the state's pace of carrying out an execution roughly every 30 days, citing the burden the pace is having on Oklahoma's prison personnel. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s current schedule of executing a death row inmate roughly every 30 days is placing too much of a burden on prison staff and should be slowed down, the state’s new attorney general wrote in a motion filed Wednesday with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who witnessed last week’s execution of Scott Eizember, asked the court to set the executions 60 days apart, rather than the current pace of 30 days apart.

“One aspect that has become clear over time is that the current pace of executions is unsustainable in the long run, as it is unduly burdening the (Department of Corrections) and its personnel,” Drummond wrote in the motion. “This is especially true given the extensive and intensive nature of the training DOC personnel undergo to prepare for each execution.”

Drummond said he made the request after meeting with DOC leaders and staff both before and after Eizember’s execution, which was the eighth the state has carried out since resuming lethal injections in October 2021. Oklahoma’s former Attorney General John O’Connor, who was appointed by former Gov. Kevin Stitt and defeated by Drummond in the Republican primary, had asked the court last year to set more than 25 executions at four-week intervals.

The DOC said in a statement it appreciates Drummond’s request and his support for the agency.

“The corrections professionals of this agency invest a significant amount of time in preparation to ensure these sentences are carried out with the utmost professionalism,” the statement said. “As always, ODOC will abide by the schedule set by the Court of Criminal Appeals.”

Public support and use of the death penalty in 2022 continued its more than two-decade decline in the U.S., but support remains high in Oklahoma. A state question in 2016 on whether to enshrine the death penalty in the Oklahoma Constitution received more 65% of the vote.

Oklahoma currently has 20 executions scheduled roughly 30 days apart through 2024. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, Oklahoma has executed more inmates per capita than any other state in the nation, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

That pace continued until problems in 2014 and 2015 led to a de facto moratorium that lasted until 2021. Richard Glossip was just hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they had received the wrong lethal drug. It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.

The drug mix-ups followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection — and after the state’s prisons chief ordered executioners to stop. It was later learned members of the execution team had improperly inserted an IV into a vein in Lockett’s groin.

Many of the executions carried out across the U.S. in 2022 also were “botched” or highly problematic, and seven of the 20 execution attempts were either visibly problematic or took an inordinate amount of time, according to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center. Many of the problems centered around difficulties that execution team members had finding suitable veins for IV lines to deliver the lethal injection.

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New Oklahoma AG seeks to slow pace of lethal injections