Oklahoma court agrees to 6-month stay of execution

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed Thursday to a six-month stay of execution for a death row inmate while an investigation is conducted into last week’s botched lethal injection.

The court reset the execution date of inmate Charles Warner to Nov. 13. Warner’s attorneys requested the 180-day delay, and the state Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Thursday in a court filing he wouldn’t object to the stay.

While the stay request only applies to Warner, Pruitt and Gov. Mary Fallin have said the state will not carry out any executions until the investigation is complete, which is expected to take at least eight weeks.

Warner was scheduled for execution on the same night last week as Clayton Lockett in what would have been the state’s first double execution since 1937. But Lockett’s vein collapsed during his lethal injection, prompting prison officials to halt the execution. He later died of a heart attack.

Fallin then issued a two-week stay of execution for Warner, but his attorneys asked for a six-month delay. Pruitt’s office agreed in a motion filed with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Should additional time be needed for the implementation of any changes or adjustments, the state will request it,” Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham wrote.

The investigation into Lockett’s botched execution is expected to take between eight and 12 weeks and will include an autopsy and toxicology tests on Lockett, said Capt. George Brown, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which is conducting the probe.

Lockett writhed on the gurney, gritted his teeth, lifted his head several times and moaned before dying of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the start of his execution. A doctor inside the death chamber during the execution reported that Lockett’s vein collapsed and some of the lethal drugs were absorbed into his tissue or leaked out. It was the first time the state had ever used the sedative midazolam as the first in a three-drug lethal injection protocol.

The curtains that allow witnesses to view the execution were closed about 16 minutes into the lethal injection, after Lockett had been showing signs of distress for several minutes. The director of the state’s prison system, Robert Patton, then called off the execution, but Lockett died about 10 minutes later.

Patton released a report saying Lockett had an intravenous tap placed at his groin because suitable veins couldn’t be found elsewhere in his body. That vein collapsed, and Patton said Lockett didn’t have another viable one — and that the state didn’t have another dose of the drugs available.

Patton has called for an “indefinite stay” while the state reviews its execution procedures and trains its staff on new protocols.

Ahead of the court’s ruling, Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, said she was pleased the attorney general agreed to the 180-day stay and she called for the court to rule “so that Mr. Warner does not have a Tuesday execution hanging over his head.”

“Then there needs to be a full, and hopefully independent, investigation,” Cohen said.

Cohen and attorneys for Lockett are among those who have criticized Fallin for tapping one of her cabinet members, Secretary of Safety and Security Michael Thompson, to head up the investigation. Thompson is a former Department of Corrections employee and witnessed Lockett’s execution.

Fallin has said that while she is willing to delay Warner’s execution until the investigation is finished, she remains a supporter of the death penalty and believes a majority of Oklahomans also support it.

“Charles Warner had his day in court,” Fallin said last week. “He committed a horrible crime: the physical abuse, rape and murder of an 11-month-old infant. His fellow Oklahomans have sentenced him to death, and we expect that sentence to be carried out as required by law.”

Warner was convicted of raping and killing his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter in 1997. He has maintained his innocence.

Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999.

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