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State, Civic Leaders React To Oklahoma Grand Jury Execution Findings

ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel speaks at the Capitol on May 20, 2016 about the grand jury's findings on the state's execution protocol
Kate Carlton Greer
ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel speaks at the Capitol Friday about the grand jury's findings on the state's execution protocol

Oklahoma’s top officials say they’re taking time to thoroughly read a scathing 106-page report released Thursday criticizing Oklahoma’s execution protocols.

Gov. Mary Fallin and Department of Corrections Interim Director Joe Allbaugh both released statements acknowledging the 12-member panel of the multicounty grand jury and the process of reviewing capital punishment procedures.

“It is imperative that Oklahoma be able to manage the execution process properly,” Fallin said in a statement Thursday.

She did not comment on the content of the report, which condemns her former General Counsel Steve Mullins for knowingly advocating to use an incorrect drug during the near-execution of Richard Glossip in September 2015. Fallin instead said that she only just received the document Thursday and would need time to analyze it.

Allbaugh also released a statement Thursday saying his department would “reserve comments until a full vetting process has been undertaken by the department.”

Allbaugh said last month during an Oklahoma Watch event his “gut” told him no one would be indicted.

“Yes there were mistakes made but it's not any different than anyother human error,” Allbaugh said during a question-and-answer session with the audience. “We didn't have the systems of checking, double-checking and triple-checking medications. All of those processes and procedures have been totally rewritten that even started before showed up in January,” Allbaugh added.

In the report, jurors chastised officials involved in the execution process for not verifying the execution drugs prior to the day of the proceedings. Jurors recommended the capital punishment protocols be revised again to clarify the duty of each person involved in the process.

In a statement, Attorney General Scott Pruitt was more direct in his criticisms of the Department of Corrections and others involved, calling their treatment of the protocol “careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive.”

“When the state fails to do its job in carrying out an execution, the ability to dispense justice is impaired for all.  This must never happen again,” Pruitt added.

The attorney general acknowledged he had full confidence in Allbaugh, a former FEMA director, to properly carry out the recommendations of the multicounty grand jury.

Death Penalty Opponents Speak Out

Several members from the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty met at the state Capitol Friday morning to discuss findings from the report.

Vice Chair Don Heath said is was important for state officials to consider a moratorium on executions until more research can be done on best practices and the use of nitrogen hypoxia.

Nearly everyone who spoke, from former state Sen. Connie Johnson to the American Civil Liberty Union of Oklahoma’s legal director Brady Henderson, stressed they cannot trust state officials to carry out the death penalty. Henderson said the nature of the Department of Corrections’ transparency clearly leads to execution errors.

“By nature, you’re going to have a smaller number of people scrutinizing things. You’re going to have very, very little accountability, if any, for mistakes. You have, really, just very few ways in which you can have somebody blow a whistle and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, are we doing that right?’” Henderson said.

ACLU executive director Ryan Kiesel went a step further, saying he does not have faith the state can perfectly carry out an execution without error.

In the grand jury’s report, members recommended appointing a third-party ombudsman to be on site during executions. Henderson said he hopes corrections officials will take that advice, but he says a lot rides on how much power that ombudsman possesses.

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