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Oklahoma executes its first inmate since botched death

Lethal injection of convicted murderer used controversial drug cocktail; Florida also executes convict

Oklahoma executed a death row inmate Thursday in its first lethal injection since a botched one last spring, employing a three-drug method method, challenged by death row inmates as presenting an unconstitutional risk of pain and suffering.

Florida executed a man using the same three-drug combination, earlier Thursday evening.

Charles Frederick Warner's execution for the 1997 killing of an 11-month-old girl in Oklahoma City lasted 18 minutes. Prison officials declared him dead at 7:28 p.m. CST.

Meanwhile, officials in Florida announced the death of Johnny Shane Kormondy at 8:16 p.m. EST for killing a man in 1993 in Pensacola. The executions, which occurred 12 minutes apart, were both delayed over court questions concerning the drugs used in the punishments.

After the first drug, the sedative midazolam, was administered and a microphone inside the death chamber was turned off, Warner said, "My body is on fire." But he showed no obvious signs of distress.

Witnesses said they saw slight twitching in Warner's neck about three minutes after the lethal injection started. The twitching lasted about seven minutes until he stopped breathing.

Warner's attorney, Madeline Cohen, who witnessed the execution, said there was no way to know if Warner suffered because the second drug, a paralytic, would have prevented him from moving.

"Because Oklahoma injected Mr. Warner with a paralytic tonight, acting as a chemical veil, we will never know whether he experienced the intense pain of suffocation and burning that would result from injecting a conscious person with rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride," Cohen said in a statement.

It was the second time Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam as part of a three-drug method, which had been challenged by Warner and other death row inmates as presenting an unconstitutional risk of pain and suffering.

Warner was originally scheduled to be executed in April on the same night as Clayton Lockett, who began writhing on the gurney, moaning and trying to lift his head after he'd been declared unconscious.

The execution came after a divided U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling said it wouldn't consider whether a sedative given to the inmate would be strong enough to render him so unconscious that he wouldn't feel other drugs stop his lungs and heart.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a dissent that while Warner must be punished, the Constitution bars inmates from suffering searing, unnecessary pain.

Warner's execution came after a nearly nine-month delay prompted by a botched lethal injection last spring, Oklahoma executed a death row inmate Thursday with the same controversial three-drug method Florida used the same evening.

Oklahoma prison officials ordered new medical equipment, more extensive training for staff and renovated the execution chamber inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to prevent the kind of problems that arose during the execution of Clayton Lockett in April. Lockett writhed on the gurney, moaned and tried to lift his head after he'd been declared unconscious, prompting prison officials to try to halt his execution before he died.

Attorneys for the state say a failed intravenous line and a lack of training led to the problems with Lockett's injection, not the drugs.

Both Oklahoma and Florida started the executions with the sedative midazolam, which has been challenged in court as ineffective in rendering a person properly unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered, creating a risk of unconstitutional pain and suffering.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the state Department of Corrections "has responded with new protocols that I believe, prayerfully, will provide them more latitude in dealing with exigent circumstances as they arise." His office has successfully defended Oklahoma's new protocol in federal court.

Oklahoma also increased by five times the amount of midazolam it used to mirror the exact formula that Florida has used in 11 other executions.

But midazolam also was used in problematic executions last year in Arizona and Ohio, where inmates snorted and gasped during lethal injections that took longer than expected.

Pruitt acknowledged that midazolam is not Oklahoma's first choice to be used in lethal injections. But he said state prison officials have been unable to secure other, more effective drugs because the manufacturers oppose their use in executions.

During a three-day hearing last month before a federal judge in Oklahoma City, the Department of Corrections' former top attorney, Michael Oakley, testified that midazolam was selected after he talked to counterparts in other states and conducted his own online research. Oakley also said he reviewed trial testimony from a medical expert who testified about the drug's effectiveness during a legal challenge to its use in executions in Florida.

A state investigation into Lockett's botched execution in Oklahoma last year determined that a single IV line failed and that the drugs were administered locally instead of directly into his bloodstream.

Since then, Oklahoma has ordered new medical equipment such as backup IV lines and an ultrasound machine for finding veins and renovated the execution chamber with new audio and video equipment to help the execution team spot potential problems.

Wire services

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Florida, Oklahoma
Death Penalty

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Florida, Oklahoma
Death Penalty

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