“Given clear public support, judges are reluctant to deprive states of the means to carry out executions, unless the evidence is convincing that prisoners' rights would be violated,” Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law at Columbia University Medical Center Paul Appelbaum told Sputnik.
Judge Friot also denied the request from 21 Oklahoma death row inmates who had asked the judge to remove midazolam, one of three drugs used for lethal injection combination, which was also used during Lockett’s death.
“The judge in the Oklahoma case simply decided that whatever doubts there may be about the effect of midazolam, they did not rise to level of creating a constitutional bar to execution,” Appelbaum said.
According to reports, the Oklahoma judge ruled Monday that executions by way of lethal injection are more humane than other methods such as hanging and that since the drug in question had been used successfully in the past, it was no longer to be considered experimental.
Additionally Judge Friot said that the plaintiffs had failed to provide the court with any available alternative to the sedative and therefore was not the job of the federal court to determine the best practice of used for executions.
“From the judge's perspective, as long as the death penalty is constitutional, there has to be some way to carry it out,” Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center Richard C. Dieter told Sputnik. “The drugs Oklahoma is proposing have been used in Florida, and alternative drugs may not be available in Oklahoma.”
Dieter said that until there is more proof that the drug midazolam causes problems during lethal injection executions, that it will be hard get states to stop using it.
“Two other states that used midazolam in 2014 [Ohio and Arizona] also had trouble with their executions and have decided to use different drugs for the next executions,” Dieter said. “If more problems arise with midazolam, and it becomes clear that alternatives are available, all states will stop using it and courts might outlaw it.”
On April 29, the execution of Clayton Lockett lasted 43 minutes instead of 15, as planned, while he visibly gasped and mumbled on the gurney. Lockett's execution was the first in Oklahoma where midazolam was used. Going forward, Oklahoma officials announced they will increase the amount of midazolam to 500 milligrams versus 100 milligrams that were given to Clayton Lockett.
Attorneys for the state argued that Lockett’s suffering during the execution resulted from an improperly set single intravenous line that was not monitored during his execution. Additionally they say that the botched set-up caused the lethal drugs to be administered locally instead of directly into his blood.
However, the lawyers representing the Oklahoma prisoners say that even when administered properly, midazolam, the sedative used in a three-drug sequence, cannot reliably protect the condemned from excruciating pain when the second two drugs are injected. The attorneys pointed to other prolonged executions this year where midazolam was used in Arizona and Ohio.
Following Lockett’s botched execution, Oklahoma placed a moratorium on executions after April 29. But judge Friot’s Monday ruling will now follow through with execution procedure on four men in three months beginning with Charles F. Warner on January 15.