OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma will resume executions by the lethal injection method, officials said Thursday.
The surprise announcement came at a news conference by Gov. Kevin Stitt, Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Department Director Scott Crow.
Efforts will continue to develop a way to carry out the punishment with nitrogen gas, officials said. However, the law allowing the state to develop a method using nitrogen gas only allows nitrogen to be used if the drugs for lethal injection are unavailable.
It has been more than five years since the last execution in the state. The death penalty still has widespread support in Oklahoma despite the national ridicule that followed an injection mistake in 2014 and drug mix-ups in 2015.
“It is important that the state is implementing our death penalty law with a procedure that is humane and swift for those convicted of the most heinous of crimes,” Gov. Stitt said. “Director Crow and Attorney General Mike Hunter have worked diligently and thoroughly to create a path forward to resume the death penalty in Oklahoma, and the time has come to deliver accountability and justice to the victims who have suffered unthinkable loss and pain.”
The ‘wait for justice is nearly over’
More than 40 murderers are awaiting execution in the state. Almost 30 have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to have execution dates set.
The last scheduled execution, on Sept. 30, 2015, was called off after a doctor discovered the wrong deadly drug had been supplied.
Executions have been on hold in Oklahoma because of that mix-up. Officials acknowledged afterward that the same mistake had been made in the execution carried out in January 2015.
“My commitment to Oklahomans who remain tormented by the loss of their loved ones has been that we would go any route necessary to resume executions as expeditiously as possible within the rule of the law,” Attorney General Hunter said. “They have endured enough through the decades of waiting on the lengthy appeals process and the state’s attempts to get the protocol right. I appreciate Director Crow and his team for their tireless search to acquire the drugs from a reliable source. Because of these efforts, we can finally tell the victims their wait for justice is nearly over.”
The three drugs used for executions will continue to be: midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
Two years ago, officials announced Oklahoma would switch to using nitrogen gas because of the problems associated with the lethal injection method. The Corrections Department director at the time complained that it was increasingly difficult to find a reliable supplier of the drugs.
“I was calling all around the world, to the back streets of the Indian subcontinent, to procure drugs,” Director Joe Allbaugh said.
Since that announcement, officials have been working on a way to carry out executions with nitrogen gas, a method never used in the United States for the death penalty. Allbaugh said a year ago he had yet to find a manufacturer of a gas delivery device willing to sell it for use in executions.
Officials have discussed building a device on their own.