From Gov. Mary Fallin’s office – Frequently asked questions about the execution chemical protocols

Editor’s Note: This “Q&A” format press release was received from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s office last week, after the execution of Richard Glossip was delayed for 37 days. Subsequently, the governor’s office supported Attorney General Scott Pruitt in seeking an indefinite stay execution for Glossip and two other death row inmates. The information here remains relevant to the ongoing discussion about death penalty policies and protocols in the state. Alex Weintz, Gov. Fallin’s communications director, wrote: “In an effort to answer the large volume of questions we have received today regarding the Glossip stay, we have put together the attached FAQ sheet.”

When did the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) realize it had potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride?

DOC’s execution chemicals were received on the day of the execution (Wed, Sept 30) in a sealed package. DOC staff became aware they had potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride in the early afternoon and immediately began the process of notifying both the office of the attorney general and the office of the governor.

Why does DOC receive execution chemicals the same day as the execution is carried out?

DOC is not authorized by state or federal law to store or possess execution chemicals other than on the day of the execution.
Does that same-day delivery contradict the execution protocol?

No. The protocol for “obtaining chemicals and equipment” does not include a timeline. It is available here.

Why did DOC receive potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride?

The pharmacist used by DOC could not obtain potassium chloride and instead used the medically appropriate equivalent (potassium acetate) without notifying DOC.

Why was the execution stayed if potassium acetate can be substituted effectively for potassium chloride?

The decision to delay the execution was made because of the legal ambiguity surrounding the use of potassium acetate. Out of an abundance of caution and acting on the advice of the attorney general and her legal staff, Gov. Fallin delayed Glossip’s execution so any legal ambiguities could be addressed. 

The state of Oklahoma has an execution protocol which has been heavily litigated and approved by federal courts.

Did the state try to acquire potassium chloride after realizing it had received potassium acetate?

Yes. It was determined the state could not receive potassium chloride in a timely manner.

What is happening now?

The offices of the governor, the attorney general and DOC are working to address any legal ambiguities regarding DOC procedures and execution chemicals. Executions will resume once those issues have been addressed to the satisfaction of all three parties. In the meantime, the attorney general has requested an indefinite stay of the executions for Richard Glossip, Benjamin Cole and John Marion Grant.

Is the state considering using Nitrogen Hypoxia for Richard Glossip’s November 6 execution?

No. Execution by nitrogen hypoxia becomes legal on November 1 as an alternative to lethal injection. Oklahoma’s method of execution will continue to be lethal injection unless a court rules that the state’s current protocols are unconstitutional.