Oklahoma inmates win stay of execution over secret lethal drugs

OKLAHOMA CITY Mon Apr 21, 2014 6:57pm EDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Two Oklahoma inmates, including one scheduled for execution on Tuesday, won stays of executions on Monday when the state's highest court ruled the inmates have a right to challenge the secrecy over the drugs the state intends to use to put them to death.

In a 5-4 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the executions of Clayton Lockett, scheduled for 6 p.m. local time Tuesday, and Charles Warner, scheduled for April 29, "until final determination of all the issues presently pending" are addressed, the court ruling states.

The case raised "grave first impression constitutional issues," the court ruling states.

"We are relieved, and extremely grateful to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for its reasonable decision to stay the scheduled executions...," said attorneys Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day, in a statement. The two jointly represent Lockett and Warner.

"In order for the courts to be able to do their job of ensuring that all state and federal laws are followed, they must have complete information about the drugs intended for use in executions, including their source," the attorneys said.

Lockett was convicted of shooting to death a 19-year-old woman whom he and two other men kidnapped in June 1999. Warner was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child.

Oklahoma officials had no immediate comment.

Attorneys for death row inmates in several U.S. states have been raising a series of arguments over lethal injection drugs as more states turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies for supplies. Makers of drugs traditionally used in lethal injections have largely stopped making the drugs available for executions.

Attorneys for the inmates argue that the drugs, which are not FDA-approved, could cause unnecessarily painful deaths, which would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

And they say moves by Oklahoma, Missouri and other states to keep the source of their compounded lethal injection drugs secret is a violation of the inmates' rights. They argue they also should have details about the purity and potency of the drugs.

Similar arguments over state secrecy were being pressed this week by lawyers for Missouri death row inmate William Rousan, who is scheduled for execution at 12:01 a.m. central time on Wednesday.

Rousan, 57, was convicted of murdering 62-year-old Grace Lewis and her 67-year-old husband in 1993 in a plot to steal the farm couple's cattle.

(Reporting By Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and writing and reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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