The Supreme Court on Friday said it would review Oklahoma’s three-drug blend used in executing death row inmates.
Without written comment or dissent, the court granted the petition filed by three inmates who challenge use of the lethal injection drugs. In particular, the inmates challenge use of the sedative midazolam.
“There is a well-established scientific consensus that it cannot maintain a deep, coma-like unconsciousness,” the inmates’ attorneys stated in their petition, adding that without proper sedation the other two drugs “would cause intense and needless pain and suffering.”
One of the inmates named in the original petition, Charles Warner, was executed Jan. 15. Warner was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old child.
The other three inmates, Richard E. Glossip; John M. Grant and Benjamin R. Cole, are still awaiting execution.
“The time is right for the court to take a careful look at this important issue, particularly given the bungled executions that have occurred since states started using these novel and experimental drugs protocols,” Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing the inmates, said in a statement.
The Supreme Court last dug into the lethal injection business in the 2008 case out of Kentucky called Baze v. Rees, which involved a different sedative as part of a three-drug combination. In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled the lethal injection mix did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Since then, Baich said, “the lethal injection landscape has changed significantly.”
Drugs and drug combinations now vary widely from state to state, the inmates’ attorneys argue. They further maintain “there is no dose that can reliably maintain unconsciousness at the surgical plane of anesthesia” so that “even the proper administration of midazolam results in an inhumane execution.”
The other two drugs used are pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
“In January 2014, Dennis McGuire made snorting noises for over 20 minutes during his execution in Ohio; in July, Joseph Wood gasped over 600 times during a nearly two-hour execution in Arizona; and in April, Oklahoma took over 40 minutes to execute Clayton Lockett as he was struggling and speaking.” defense attorneys recounted. “All three executions used midazolam.”
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Oklahoma’s practice.
Glossip, whose name is first on the petition, was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder. He maintains his innocence.