OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A lawyer for an Oklahoma death row inmate said Wednesday he has asked a federal judge to require that a backup dose of an anesthetic be readily available if his client’s execution is carried out next month.
Attorney Jim Drummond said he filed a motion Tuesday seeking an emergency hearing so that the judge could consider his request to at least temporarily stop the Aug. 14 execution of Michael Hooper. Drummond argues that Hooper could experience excruciating pain if pentobarbital — the first of three drugs administered during a lethal injection — does not render Hooper unconscious.
“I’m asking that they bring a backup dose,” Drummond said, noting that other states have such a requirement. “As far as I know they’ve never brought a backup dose.”
Drummond filed a lawsuit against the state on Hooper’s behalf earlier this month when state officials said they had only one dose of pentobarbital. The complaint was amended Tuesday after the state said it had obtained 20 more doses.
Drummond said acquisition of the additional doses does not eliminate his concerns about the way the state carries out executions, especially the need for a backup dose of the anesthetic.
No emergency hearing had been set as of Wednesday afternoon, according to online records of the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City.
Hooper, 39, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the December 1993 killings of his former girlfriend, 23-year-old Cynthia Lynn Jarman, and her two children, 5-year-old Tonya and 3-year-old Timmy. Each of the victims was shot twice in the head. Their bodies were buried in a shallow grave in a field northwest of Oklahoma City.
In Oklahoma’s execution process, pentobarbital is used to render a condemned inmate unconscious, followed by vecuronium bromide to stop breathing and potassium chloride to stop the heart.
Drummond said that if the sedative is ineffective, the remaining drugs may cause great pain in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The lawyer said administration of the second drug “can feel like suffocation” if the inmate is still conscious, and the third drug “can be excruciatingly painful.”
The lawsuit also questions whether the state’s 20 new doses of pentobarbital were manufactured for human or veterinary use. Pentobarbital is a barbiturate similar to one used to euthanize animals.
In addition, the complaint questions whether the state’s execution protocol is constitutional because other states have adopted a one-drug protocol that involves a single fast-acting barbiturate. Supporters say it causes no pain and can be given in a large enough dose to cause death.
Drummond said more than 20 executions have been conducted in the U.S. with a one-drug protocol. Ohio, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, Texas and Kentucky have all adopted the one-drug process.
But its use has been questioned. In April, an Arizona inmate shook for several seconds after he received a lethal dose of pentobarbital, which was administered alone.
Diane Clay, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said in a statement that the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol has been repeatedly upheld by the federal courts.
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