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Oklahoma Executes 1st Inmate Since Lethal Injection Problems


Two states executed inmates last night. Florida used lethal injection against the man convicted of leading a 1993 home invasion that led to the death of a banker. Oklahoma also conducted an execution. It was the state's first since a botched execution in April. And it went ahead despite a brief delay as the Supreme Court considered concerns about the drugs that were used. We should warn you, there are some graphic descriptions in the next three minutes. Here's Rachel Hubbard of member station KOSU.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: Inmate Charles Warner's crime was particularly disturbing. He was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old girl. Last night, Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy witnessed Warner die.


SEAN MURPHY: The shades were lifted at 7:08 p.m. Mr. Warner was strapped to the gurney with both arms - IV lines in both arms.

HUBBARD: Media witnesses did hear the inmate say, my body is on fire, and it feels like acid. But it did not appear he was in pain. Warner was supposed to die nine months ago, on the same day of the botched execution. In that one, it took 43 minutes to successfully kill another inmate, even as he talked while writhing on the gurney. Since then, Oklahoma made nearly two dozen changes to its execution procedures. Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., explains some of those changes.

RICHARD DIETER: Everything from, you know, remodeling the execution chamber, putting in a clock and communications devices and things which I think are good, but not necessarily the heart of what went wrong.

HUBBARD: What went wrong depends on who you talk to. The state says it was ineffective administration of drugs. But a lawsuit brought by Oklahoma death row inmates says the drugs are the problem. Brady Henderson is with the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma.

BRADY HENDERSON: How do you actually figure out what's going to happen? You can't. You essentially have to experiment in a life-and-death situation.

HUBBARD: Oklahoma used a stronger dose of its lethal injection drug cocktail last night, similar to the one that Florida now administers. Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center says Arizona and Ohio have also had problems.

DIETER: This is still an experiment. It didn't work last time, and it didn't work in a number of states last year.

HUBBARD: Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court did take up the issue, but allowed Florida and Oklahoma's executions to proceed on a narrow 5-4 vote.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) One, two, three, don't kill for me.

HUBBARD: Oklahoma is a strong pro-death penalty state. But a few hours before Warner died, about 20 people stood outside the governor's mansion to protest the execution, among them, the Reverend Adam Leathers.

REVEREND ADAM LEATHERS: We viewed this just as the same as we view any other execution; it's a meaningless act of vengeance. It's not going to accomplish anything.

HUBBARD: Even though yesterday's execution appeared to have no problems, the issue might not go away. In a strongly worded eight-page opinion, Justice Sonja Sotomayor wrote that she hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will take up a future case about what she calls scientifically untested methods of execution. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Hubbard in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Hubbard is a 20-year news veteran and serves as KOSU's executive director.