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Oklahoma Executes An Inmate For 1st Time Since Lethal Injection Disaster

This 2011 photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Charles Warner. Warner was executed Thursday for the 1997 killing of his roommate's 11-month-old daughter.
This 2011 photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Charles Warner. Warner was executed Thursday for the 1997 killing of his roommate's 11-month-old daughter.

More than eight months after Oklahoma officials struggled to perform the execution of a condemned man who eventually died of a heart attack, the state executed another prisoner, Charles Frederick Warner, Thursday night. The Associated Press reports that Warner was declared dead at 7:28 p.m. CST. Warner was convicted in the 1997 rape and beating death of an 11-month-old girl.

The execution came after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a stay of execution for Warner Thursday evening. Warner and other inmates challenged Oklahoma's execution drug cocktail, saying it caused an unconstitutional risk of pain and suffering.

Warner, 47, had been scheduled to die on the same night as Clayton D. Lockett, the last man executed in Oklahoma in April. Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman and burying her alive in 1999. After a trio of injected drugs did not quickly bring about Lockett's death, Warner's execution was put on hold.

When officials at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary tried to execute Lockett, he was still alive, and apparently suffering, well after the procedure began. That night, he eventually died of a heart attack.

As we reported last April, Oklahoma and other states have struggled to adjust to new combinations of execution drugs after manufacturers, under pressure from critics of capital punishment, ceased providing states with drugs they had long used. States have also refused to reveal the names of their suppliers because they say doing so would jeopardize their relationships with them.

A shortage of the traditional drug, sodium thiopental, forced Oklahoma to begin using pentobarbital in 2010. At the time, a prisoner's attorney argued that pentobarbital, which has been used to euthanize animals, was unsafe and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Oklahoman reports, "The Corrections Department was forced to use the sedative midazolam on Lockett. Midazolam also was used in two recent problematic executions, one in Ohio and another in Arizona."

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the dissent in this evening's decision to reject a stay of Warner's execution. In it, she said, "Petitioners
have committed horrific crimes, and should be punished. But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death. I hope that our failure to
act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider
these questions."

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan joined her in the dissent. The justices in the majority made no comment on their decision.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
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