December 26, 2010

Oklahoma in forefront of lethal drug debate

— Personal feelings and opinions about the death penalty aside, the execution last week of the killer of a Grady County inmate brought Oklahoma to the forefront in the lethal injection drug debate.

The Associated Press reported that several states have been scrambling since the only U.S. manufacturer of the barbiturate normally used in executions said new batches of sodium thiopental would not be available until at least January. Now, that date has been vaguely set for the first quarter of next  year.

Executions have been delayed in California, Arkansas, Tennessee and Maryland. In Ohio and Washington, laws were passed to allow for the use of sodium thiopental alone, AP said.

Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center said he thought Oklahoma is the only state where the issue came to a  head over a new drug. Other states have not been able to consider it, because the state courts wanted more time to review the overall protocol changes.

Oklahoma DOC spokesman Jerry Massie said there didn’t appear to be any issues with the new drug. He said Oklahoma’s law calls for the use of a fast-acting barbiturate to be administered first, which gave the state the flexibility to use pentobarbital, a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals.

John David Duty, who received the death penalty after strangling his cellmate – Chickasha resident and DOC inmate Curtis J. Wise – in Dec. 2001 challenged the state’s decision to use pentobarbital. Duty and two other death-row inmates argued it could be inhumane because a person could be paralyzed but still aware when a painful third drug is administered to stop the heart, the AP article reported. A federal appeals court upheld the ruling against the other two inmates.

Ironically, Wise’s mother had begged the judge to sentence Duty to life without parole. She said she wanted him to live to be 110 years old and think about what he did.

Duty, of course, did not live to be 110 years old and his execution went down in the books as a landmark case.

A few national media blogs took the opportunity to play on words and said Duty’s execution with a drug commonly used to euthanize animals made the convicted killer a “guinea pig” and that he “was put down like a dog.”

No doubt that capital punishment is an emotional topic. The fact that Oklahoma is the first state in the union to administer a different drug in the lethal mix is significant and historical. The fact that Grady County and Chickasha was touched by this case because one of our own was the victim, is tragic.

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