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September 30, 2014

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Oklahoma judge throws out state execution law

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma judge ruled the state's execution law unconstitutional Wednesday because its privacy provision is so strict that it that prevents inmates from finding out the source of drugs used in executions, even through the courts.

After an Ohio inmate gasped while dying and an Oklahoma prisoner complained that he felt his body burning, inmates Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner had wanted to know who was making the drugs that would kill them next month and whether the material was pure.

However, under Oklahoma law, no one is allowed to disclose the source of those drugs — even if an inmate sues and wants the information as part of the discovery process. Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish said that prevents the inmates from exercising their rights under the Constitution.

"I think that the secrecy statute is a violation of due process because access to the courts has been denied," Parrish ruled.

Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham warned the judge that she would be "treading into some deep water" if she ruled for the inmates. He said the inmates hadn't proven they were at risk and that there was nothing they could do to stop their execution from being carried out anyway.

"This is all just speculation, piled up hyperbole," Branham said. "What is the point of having the information if there's nothing you can do with it?"

In January, Dennis McGuire made gasp-like sounds for several minutes before being pronounced dead after 26 minutes during his execution in Ohio. Inmate Michael Wilson in Oklahoma said at his January execution that he could feel his body burning as the drugs made their way through his body.

Branham suggested Wednesday that Wilson's lawyer may have coaxed him to say that in an effort to interfere with future executions.

Lockett is scheduled to die April 22. Warner's execution is April 29.

A separate court is considering stay requests from the men.

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