National attention turned to Oklahoma’s death penalty protocol last week after Clayton Lockett was slowly tortured to death during an execution gone awry. But the execution was the latest development in a long-running battle to continue putting people to death, even when the only way to do to is using unknown, untested drugs for lethal injections.
Emails recently obtained by the Colorado Independent reveal Oklahoma officials joking about their success in securing legal access to the controversial execution drugs. After Texas lawyers sought help from Oklahoma in arguing that they were justified in using new, untested drugs for executions, Oklahoma officials quipped in a 2011 email chain they would help them out exchange for coveted football tickets and a “commemorative plaque at halftime recognizing Oklahoma’s on-going contributions to propping up the Texas system of capital punishment.”
Among those involved in the emails was Stephen Krise, who is now General Counsel of the state’s Department of Public Safety. The head of that Department, Michael Thompson, was selected to lead an independent investigation into the botched execution of Lockett. While it is not clear whether Krise will be directly involved in the investigation, the American Civil Liberties Union points out that his affiliation calls into question the neutrality of the investigation.
Krise joked that the University of Texas should intentionally throw football games against the University of Oklahoma in exchange for their help, saying, “Looks like they waited until the last minute and now need help from those they refused to help earlier. So, I propose we help if TX promises to take a dive in the OU-TX game for the next 4 years.”
Responding to Krise with calls for prime seats to the game between the two schools, Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham referred to the Oklahoma lawyers as “Team Pentobarbitol.” Pentobarbitol is the drug they were fighting to use in executions after sources of other drugs used in executions ran dry due to international firms’ refusal to supply the drugs for use in the death penalty.
Texas has since succeeded in convincing courts to use pentobarbitol. And they even killed a man using an untested, unknown source of the drug last month. The recent botched execution of Lockett did not use pentobarbitol, but it did use a three-drug cocktail also made by an unknown compounding pharmacy, a small-batch maker of drugs not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
These most recent comments reflect a long history of callousness toward the potential for cruel and unusual punishment. But Oklahoma comments about the death penalty have not stopped since the flawed execution of Lockett. One Oklahoma lawmaker reportedly said this weekend that he wouldn’t care if death row inmates were fed to lions.