The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals denied a stay on Friday for two death row inmates set to be executed this month, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction — even though the state Supreme Court says it’s the only court that does.
In a 3-2 decision, the Criminal Appeals court rejected the request from lawyers for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, saying it disagrees with a state Supreme Court ruling that the appellate court is the correct authority to issue a stay.
“While the Oklahoma Supreme Court has authority to deem an issue civil and so within its jurisdiction, it does not have the power to supersede a statute and manufacture jurisdiction in this court for appellant’s stay request by merely transferring it here,” the judges wrote.
Lockett and Warner are suing the state over what they called a “veil of secrecy” surrounding its execution protocol. A lower court ruled in their favor last month that the state statute protecting drug suppliers was unconstitutionally broad because inmates could not find out the source of drugs used in their executions, even during court proceedings.
The case has bounced among four different state and federal courts since it was originally filed in February.
Lawyers for the two men had most recently asked the Court of Criminal Appeals for an emergency stay while other courts sort out the secrecy lawsuit. They said they will appeal Friday’s decision — but do not yet know in which court.
“In a case where a state court has already ruled Oklahoma’s secrecy law unconstitutional, and in which the state’s highest court wrote only yesterday of the ‘gravity’ of the constitutional issues involved, it would be unthinkable to move forward with the executions of Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner before the Oklahoma Supreme Court has a chance to consider the substantive issues at stake,” lawyers for the inmates said in an emailed statement.
Lockett is scheduled to be executed Tuesday for the 1999 shooting death of a 19-year-old Perry woman. Warner is slated to die the following Tuesday for the rape and murder of his roommate’s 11-month-old child.
The two dissenting judges said the inmates are in imminent danger and should have been granted a stay.
“I would grant a stay to avoid irreparable harm as the appellants face imminent execution,” Vice-Presiding Judge Clancey Smith wrote. “I would do so in consideration of the appellants’ rights, to avoid the miscarriage of justice, and in comity with the Supreme Court’s request for time to resolve the issues pending before it.”
A spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, Aaron Cooper, said the court correctly recognizes that the claims raised by the two men “are not about guilt or innocence or about access to the courts, but are instead more shell games designed to delay the punishment handed down by a jury.”
The Attorney General’s Office had also filed an appeal Friday challenging the decision last month by Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish. The office said in its appeal to the state Supreme Court that Parrish ruled in error that the state could not keep secret the source of the drugs it uses for executions.
Over the past decade, many major drugmakers have stopped selling the drugs used in lethal injections to U.S. prisons and corrections departments. Some states turned to substitutes made by compounding pharmacies, which custom-mix prescription drugs. Opponents of the death penalty have in turn demanded more disclosure about the suppliers and cast doubts on the effectiveness of the drugs.
Source: The AP