The state of Oklahoma carried out their 112th execution Thursday since the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted the practice throughout the country in 1990. Charles Frederick Warner (47), was given a three-drug protocol consisting of Midazolam (used to render the person unconscious), Vecuronium Bromide (used to paralyze the person) and Potassium Chloride (used to stop the heart). The execution had previously been scheduled for April but was delayed pending further investigation of the prison’s protocol involving executions and medical evidence pertaining to the drugs; earlier this year, the state botched an execution using these drugs causing the condemned prisoner to suffer immensely before he eventually died. A last minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in a 5/4 vote; Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan, argued that a stay should be granted given the many scientific uncertainties regarding the drugs, their questionable effects, and the limited medical testimony permitted by the trial judge. Essentially, the lower decision was based largely upon the testimony of one “expert”, Dr. Evans, who cited no studies on the subject drugs, and instead relied on information provided on a general drug site web page. The dissenting Justices questioned how the expert’s testimony could be supported given the substantial body of conflicting empirical and anecdotal evidence.
HORRIFIC FACTS OF THE CASE: In August of 1997, Shonda Waller, and her eleven-month-old daughter Adriana, lived with Warner in Oklahoma City. During the early morning hours of August 22nd, Shonda left Adriana with Warner when she went grocery shopping, and when she returned, the child was not breathing. She rushed her to the hospital where a nurse (Robin Jones) and Dr. McCreight noticed fresh bright red blood around the child’s anus and tears in the rectum. At the autopsy, the pathologist found two skull fractures, a fractured jaw, three fractured ribs, lacerated liver and spleen and bruised lungs. The injuries were determined to cause her death. During a subsequent search of Warner’s house, police found a sexually explicit videotape, a jar of Vaseline and bottle of aloe vera jel. The jury found Warner guilty of murder and rape and recommended the death penalty and the judge imposed it.
COMMENT: Clearly, more medical studies are needed on these drugs. Moreover, the state’s refusal to identify the manufacturers of some of these drugs impedes useful and important information that could be gathered in the investigative process. What is the hurry? Warner was not going anywhere. And if you are a huge proponent of the death penalty, as are many folks in the Middle East apparently are, wouldn’t you at least agree that the process should be humane here in the U.S.? Nobody seriously disputes the horrific nature of many of these crimes- a recent death penalty case involved a man who buried his victim alive!! And there is no evidence we are aware of that shows that Warner was innocent. Some people should never be released from prison. But, some innocent people have been put to death. Life, without the possibility of parole, is an adequate punishment for any crime (an opinion now shared by an increasingly large number of Americans), but for those who believe death is a just and necessary penalty in certain cases, we ask, why not carry out the penalty humanely, evenly and fairly? This way, we could substantially decrease the execution of innocent people and still satisfy the urge to kill killers.
UPDATE: We took another look at this issue from an appellate lawyer’s perspective as it pertains to the level of guidance provided by the Supreme Court for pending or future appeals.