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Death Row Prisoners With Tentative Execution Dates Challenge State’s ‘Medical Experimentation’ 

U.S. Army

In a new motion filed Monday in the Western District Court of Oklahoma, prisoners who have tentative execution dates starting this fall are asking the court to reconsider its position on ‘medical experimentation.’ 

Capital punishment in Oklahoma has been on hiatus after a series of botched executions threw drug protocols into question.

On Aug. 11, a ruling by a federal judge in Oklahoma City allowedthat a lawsuit challenging those lethal injection protocols can proceed to trial.

In the same ruling, U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot wrote during that trial, counselors should be prepared to show evidence on the efficacy of midazolam, a drug involved in the botched executions. Friot wrote that evidence may be collected from some of the executions of the prisoners involved in the suit. 

“As a word to the wise, the parties would be well advised to be prepared, at trial, to present evidence as to the actual track record of midazolam as used in executions over the last few years,” Friot wrote. “There well may be a track record by the time this case is called for trial.”

Attorneys for the prisoners argue that Friot’s wording proves the state is inviting medical experimentation on the condemned.

“The Court thereby not only acknowledges that the execution will constitute human experimentation, but the Court invites the State to conduct that experimentation,” reads the motion filed Monday.

On Aug. 27, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for James Coddington, Donald Grant, John Grant, Julius Jones, Wade Lay, Gilbert Postelle and Bigler Stouffer. They had not specified alternative methods of execution.

In Monday’s motion, attorneys argue the prisoners declined to specify their preferences on how to die for religious reasons. 

The plaintiffs “declined to provide alternative methods of execution to be used in their executions on grounds of moral, ethical, and/or religious beliefs that prohibit them from being complicit in their own deaths in a way they believe would be akin to suicide or assisting suicide,” reads the motion. 

If the court of appeals approves O’Connor’s proposed dates, the first man to die will be John Grant on Oct. 7.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.