SCOTUS order to stay executions doesn’t change anything

shutterstock_lethal-injectionThe Supreme Court of the United States stay order blocking three pending executions in Oklahoma, handed down Jan. 28, doesn’t actually change anything, said Phillip Murrah Director and one of the firm’s founders, Robert N. Sheets.

While there is much interest and coverage of the motion, no decision has been made that will change how death sentences are carried out – other than a mandate to remain in place for the time being.

While the occurrence is quite interesting, it is simply an order to halt executions until the highest court of the land has a chance to hear arguments and make a decision.

From The Supreme Court of the United States on Jan 28, 2015: Application (14A796) granted by the Court. Respondents’ application for stays of execution of sentences of death presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the Court is granted and it is hereby ordered that petitioners’ executions using midazolam are stayed pending final disposition of this case.

Wednesday’s order doesn’t address the death penalty. The State of Oklahoma is still able to execute condemned prisoners by any other means previously deemed constitutional, Sheets noted. The Stay also doesn’t make a determination about the controversial decision to use the drug midazolam as lethal injection agent during the execution process. It doesn’t determine anything about constituent ingredients. It doesn’t address process or propriety. It doesn’t make any kind of judgment, one way or the other.

What happened here in Oklahoma is simple – Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt asked earlier this week for the stay, according to a report by The Associated Press:

“Rather than stop the executions himself, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt took the unusual step of asking the justices for a stay. Oklahoma wants the right to resume executions if it finds a different suitable drug.  Pruitt said in a statement: “It is important that we act in order to best serve the interests of the victims of these horrific crimes and the state’s obligation to ensure justice in each and every case. The families of the victims in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for the sentences of these heinous crimes to be carried out.”

The United State Supreme Court, defense attorneys for the condemned inmates and the Oklahoma Attorney General agreed that the state should wait on these executions until final disposition of the case. The executions are put on hold until the Court can hear Richard E. Glossip v. Kevin J. Gross.  Richard Glossip was the next inmate scheduled to be put to death

SCOTUS scrutiny: The drug and how it is administered

The Supreme Court will hear Glossip v. Gross in April and issue a decision in the summer. The focus of the case is the drug, midazolam, and whether it causes pain and suffering in the inmate. The drug is part of a drug combination used in the state’s lethal injection process. Last year, Oklahoma received worldwide attention after an execution using the same drug when terribly wrong.

During the execution process, midazolam (Midazolam Hydrochloride) is administered to the inmate, first, as a sedative. That injection, according to The New York Times, “was to be followed by injections of vecuronium bromide, a paralyzing agent that stops breathing, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.”

Phillips Murrah attorney, Mary Holloway Richard, a pioneer in healthcare law who has practiced in the area of clinical research and regulatory law for many years, said that the drug, itself, isn’t necessarily the problem. Rather, how and under what conditions it’s administered could be more at issue.

“To eliminate some of the mystique, this is the drug commonly known, and used, as Versed,” she clarified. “This drug is used in many venues and even for many different types of patients, including pediatric patients.”

A significant issue is raised by the exact recipe of the drug combination and the amount of Versed used, she added. “I keep seeing that it must be titrated properly.”

In other words, the dosage amount and duration of administration is very important to successful effect. Oklahoma has a three-drug protocol.

Also implicated is the manner in which the drug is administered. After the Clayton Lockett execution problems, Oklahoma released a report identifying insufficient training of those administering the drug and communication between prison and support staff, as well as a lack of contingency planning on the part of the Department of Public Safety.  The report also points to difficulties in starting the IV in Mr. Lockett.

More info: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/state-lethal-injection