The Oklahoma attorney general's office agreed on Thursday to halt all executions for six months amid a state investigation into what happened during the botched lethal injection of another inmate last week, according to a filing with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
The move came as Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office said it will not object to a 180-day stay of execution for Charles Warner, who was found guilty of raping and murdering his girlfriend's 11-month-old daughter in 1997, while the investigation into what went wrong during inmate Clayton Lockett's execution is underway.
Warner was scheduled to be executed last week on the same day that Lockett's execution, which involved the controversial use of a new drug combination including a sedative that was used for the first time in Oklahoma, went wrong.
Witnesses said that Lockett could be seen writhing, twitching and clenching his teeth on the gurney, leading prison officials to stop the execution process before Locket eventually died 40 minutes after the procedure started from an apparent heart attack — although an autopsy is being conducted to determine his official cause of death.
The state investigation is being headed up by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, which is tasked with reviewing the state's execution protocol and making any possible recommendations on changes or adjustments to the execution process.
“It’s going to take at least six months to investigate what happened and then to try to propose something new that will be reliable and humane, so that they’re not caught unprepared and embarrassing the whole state,” Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Al Jazeera.
Dieter said that the investigation will attempt to answer whether the drugs were at fault in the botching and whether malpractice in administering them could have been involved.
“Exactly what happened is somewhat a new area. On one hand, you do a physical examination, but then you have to consult with experts — 'how does this drug that they use... supposed to work and would it have caused death? What about the second drug and the third drug?'" Dieter said.
As for how this stay will affect other states, Dieter said that states that had been planning to use a drug combination similar to what Oklahoma did "may have to put things on hold." However, Dieter said states like Texas and Missouri, contend they don't have a problem because they use different drugs.
Nevertheless there could be implications for the country because as Dieter put it, "every state has to be sure they find a vein and inject an IV correctly."
"It'll depend on what courts demand. They may demand more transparency, more justification for what a state is doing. I think on the whole, the death penalty is on the defensive right now and probably will remain that way for some time," he said.