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Autopsy: State Used Wrong Drug To Execute Charles Warner

Charles Frederick Warner
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
Charles Frederick Warner

Autopsy records show Oklahoma death row inmate Charles Warner received the wrong drug during his January lethal injection. That means the last three capital punishments the state has attempted to carry out have had problems, dating back to the April 29, 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

Updated 5:43 p.m. to include information about letter sent to Warner's attorneys

According to documents provided to The Oklahoman, the Department of Corrections used potassium acetate as the third drug in the three-drug cocktail on Warner, in violation of the state's execution protocol. The protocol calls for potassium chloride as the third drug, which stops the inmate's heart.

Gov. Mary Fallin issued a stay of execution for Richard Glossip on September 30 when it was discovered that the DOC received potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride for his execution as well.

The autopsy report lists "Closing and Personal Effects" that were with Warner at the time of his execution. The list includes "3 empty 60 mL syringes with attached white tape labelled '120 mEq Potassium Chloride'" and a white box with "12 empty vials labelled '20mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection, USP 40 mEq\2 mEq\mL'."

An attorney for Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip says it's impossible to trust the state to effectively carry out an execution, or even tell the truth, after revelations that a different drug was substituted for Oklahoma's most recent lethal injection, counter to the state's death penalty protocol.

"The State’s disclosure that it used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride during the execution of Charles Warner yet again raises serious questions about the ability of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to carry out executions," Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who's working on the Glossip case, said in a statement. "The execution logs for Charles Warner say that he was administered potassium chloride, but now the State says potassium acetate was used. We will explore this in detail through the discovery process in the federal litigation."

Last week, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt launched an investigation to find out why the DOC received a shipment of potassium acetate for Richard Glossip's execution. Gov. Fallin issued a last-minute stay for Glossip, and Pruitt later stayed indefinitely all scheduled executions in the state to give his office time to investigate the drug mix up. In a written statement, Pruitt wrote that the state has "a strong interest in ensuring that the execution protocol is strictly followed."

"I want to assure the public that our investigation will be full, fair and complete and includes not only actions on September 30, but any and all actions prior, relevant to the use of potassium acetate and potassium chloride," Pruitt wrote.

Fallin first learned about the use of potassium acetate in Warner's execution on September 30, hours before the Department of Corrections was to execute Glossip with the same drug.

"This was the first time that myself or anyone in my office had been notified of potassium acetate," Fallin said in a written statement. 

Fallin wrote that it became apparent the DOC used potassium acetate to lethally inject Warner during discussions about delaying Glossip's execution.

"I was not aware nor was anyone in my office aware of that possibility until the day of Richard Glossip's scheduled execution," Fallin wrote. "The attorney general's office is conducting an inquiry into the Warner execution and I am fully supportive of that inquiry."

The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty issued a statement saying they don't fault the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for doing its job during a complicated execution process, but instead blamed the state's leadership for having the death penalty in the first place. 

"We want a very thorough investigation as to who was involved in breaking the protocol in January in the execution of Charles Warner," board member Rex Friend said in a statement. "On September 30, our understanding of the breaking of the protocol didn't happen because of the high profile attention focused on the Richard Glossip execution, but rather was prevented by the high profile nature of the media attention on Glossip's possible innocence.”

The Oklahoma Attorney General sent a letter to Warner's attorney in November 2014 to inform him that his lethal injection would include midazolam,  rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Baich released the letter on Thursday according to the Associated Press. Oklahoma Department of Correction director Robert Patton did not comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Original Post

An autopsy obtained by The Oklahoman shows Department of Corrections officials used potassium acetate as the final drug in a three-chemical mixture to execute Charles Frederick Warner:

The drug vials and syringes used in Warner's execution were submitted to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner after his death. Two of the syringes were labeled with white tape “120 mEq Potassium Chloride,” his autopsy report shows. However, the 12 empty vials used to fill the syringes are labeled “20mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection, USP 40 mEq\2mEq\mL,” the autopsy report shows.

Potassium acetate is the same drug that prompted the DOC to halt last week’s execution of Richard Glossip, when a doctor at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester discovered the state had potassium acetate – and not potassium chloride – on hand just minutes before Glossip’s execution.

The state’s revised execution protocol upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June requires the use of potassium chloride to stop the heart. Gov. Mary Fallin issued a stay of execution for Glossip, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals halted all three scheduled executions indefinitely so an investigation can take place.

Warner’s execution was the only lethal injection the state has carried out since the botched April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett. Medical staff struggled to find a vein to insert the intravenous line, and Lockett writhed and moaned on the gurney before succumbing to a heart attack 43 minutes later.

During Warner’s execution in January, he said, “My body is on fire” after receiving the first drug midazolam, but otherwise showed no signs of distress. He was pronounced dead 18 minutes later.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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