Oklahomans respond to U.S. Supreme Court ruling on state’s lethal injection protocols

OKLAHOMA CITY – The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols are constitutional. Responses from Oklahomans were sharply divided.

Governor Mary Fallin commented on the majority opinion in Glossip v. Gross:

“The Constitution is clearly not intended to prohibit the death penalty by lethal injection or the use of the sedative midazolam. I appreciate the Court’s ruling, which upholds the letter and the spirit of the law as it is written.

“My thanks go out to Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick and their legal team for aggressively and successfully representing the state on this issue.”

Gov. Fallin said Pruitt’s office will notify the state Court of Criminal Appeals that execution dates can now be set for Richard Glossip, John Marion Grant, and Benjamin Robert Cole.

Attorney General Pruitt commented as follows:

“The state of Oklahoma is vested with the authority to carry out the sentence of death handed out by juries for the most heinous of crimes. State officials act deliberately and thoughtfully in carrying out this responsibility.

“This marks the eighth time a court has reviewed and upheld as constitutional the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma. The Court’s ruling preserves the ability of the Department of Corrections to proceed with carrying out the punishment of death. The state appreciates the justices’ thoughtful consideration of these important issues. I also want to thank Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick and the entire trial team at the Attorney General’s Office for their outstanding legal work in arguing and winning this case before the highest court in the land.”

Pruitt continued, “The families in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for justice. Now that the legal issues have been settled, the state can proceed with ensuring that justice is served for the victims of these horrible and tragic crimes.”

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, leader of Catholics in Oklahoma, said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations: “Even as we seek justice for these grave wrongs and render compassion for those who have endured great loss, our faith impels us to call for the building up of a culture of life where every human life is valued.

“The use of the death penalty, in any form, diminishes us all. When available, we should choose non-lethal ways to ensure justice and to protect society. I pray for the day that Oklahoma and other states will abolish capital punishment.”

Rev. Adam Leathers, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) said members of his group were “saddened and deeply concerned about the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to permit Oklahoma and other states to continue to use midazolam in a three-drug cocktail to murder human beings. This three-drug cocktail is a trinity of evil and is evidence that we as citizens are not only comfortable with our government reserving the right to murder us but they may do so in a grossly experimental and tortuous way.

“Regardless of the means of execution, the Death Penalty contradicts our State’s commitment to our conservative ideals of limited government authority, fiscal responsibility, and our Christian faith.”

Former state Sen. Connie Johnson, chairman of OK-CADP, said the organization “applauds Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion in which he stated that it has been nearly 40 years since the Court’s ruling upholding the death penalty. During that period of time, the punishment has changed significantly in the methods used, in the number of states abolishing the death penalty, and in states’ abilities to carry out the sentence in ways that do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as in several recent botched executions.

“OK-CADP continues to question the use of midazolam in Oklahoma’s lethal injection cocktail. We strongly agree with Justice Breyer’s conclusion that it is time to revisit the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.”

Also commenting was Rev. Zachary Gleason, co-organizer for Restoring Justice Oklahoma and Pastor at Joy Mennonite Church in Oklahoma City. Gleason said, “They misused a standard that was not precedent in the first place. I don’t know if desperation like that is encouraging or discouraging… For now, it’s only discouraging.”

Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who has visited the state frequently seeking an end to the ultimate sanction, said in a brief statement to CapitolBeatOK, “The Supreme Court’s decision in Glossip v. Gross allows for continued experimentation on death row inmates. The drug doesn’t work.”