April 21, 2014
Execution of Clayton Lockett to go ahead after judges in disagreement over which court has the power to grant a stay
Oklahoma plans to kill Clayton Lockett by lethal injection on Tuesday, after judges could not agree which court has the authority to stay his execution amid questions over the constitutionality of the state’s capital punishment law.
The Oklahoma court of criminal appeals and the state supreme court last week both declined to stay the executions of Lockett and Charles Warner, scheduled for April 29, with each court saying it did not have the authority to grant a stay.
The inmates have sued over the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s secrecy about execution drugs, and an Oklahoma county district court judge has ruled that keeping the source of the drugs confidential is a violation of their rights. The state is defending a law that allows it to keep the source of the drugs secret, on the argument that suppliers would be in danger if their identities were made public.
Lockett, 38, was convicted of killing a 19-year-old woman in 1999. He was also convicted of rape. Warner, 46, was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old baby in 1997.
The Oklahoma county district judge ruled in March that the secrecy surrounding the drug source violated the inmates’ right to access the courts. The state appealed that ruling on Friday to the state supreme court calling the ruling an “overbroad interpretation” of the right to access.
The inmates’ lawyers, Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day, said in a statement it would be “unthinkable” to execute them before the state supreme court considers the constitutional issues.
“The extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection in Oklahoma makes it impossible to know whether executions would be carried out in a humane and legal manner,” the lawyers said. The lawyers appealed again Monday to the state supreme court.
The state has said Lockett and Warner will die, and that the question is how and when.
“The citizens should not see their criminal justice system derailed and subverted by criminal defendants who have completely exhausted the entire range of appeals and processes required by the US and Oklahoma constitutions due to baseless speculation of theoretical harms raised in improper venues,” the state said in a filing.
The state supreme court said it did not have the authority to stay the executions and transferred the matter to the criminal appeals court. But the criminal appeals court said it did not have the authority to grant a stay.
In transferring the case to the criminal appeals court, the state supreme court urged the judges to consider the “gravity of the first impression constitutional issues this court will be charged with in addressing” the appeals.
The appeals present claims, “which if resolved in the prisoners’ favor, might well support alterations in the execution process,” the court said in transferring the stay.
At the criminal appeals court, judge Clancy Smith dissented from her colleagues, saying: “I would grant a stay to avoid irreparable harm as the appellants face imminent execution. I would do so in consideration of the appellants’ rights, to avoid the possibility of a miscarriage of justice, and in comity with the supreme courts’ request for time to resolve the issues pending before it.”
The state plans to use an untried dose of midazolam in a three-drug lethal injection method to kill Lockett and Warner.
Unable to find the drugs it needed to kill the men, the state changed its protocol in March to allow five lethal injection methods. The state can use four three-drug combinations, or a single dose of pentobarbital.
The state has typically fought legal battles when it wanted to revise the lethal injection method, according to a document the corrections department wrote to update the state board of corrections in 2012.
“As noted, Oklahoma has been required to litigate every change in the lethal injection protocol and anticipates future litigation for each new change,” the document states.
Lockett’s execution is scheduled for 6pm local time on Tuesday, at the Oklahoma state penitentiary in McAlester. His will be the state’s third execution in 2014.