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Autopsy: Oklahoma Used The Wrong Drug To Execute Charles Warner

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.

Corrections officials in Oklahoma used the wrong drug to execute Charles Warner back in January.

The revelation was included in Warner's autopsy report, which was just made public by the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. According to the report, officials used potassium acetate — not potassium chloride, as state protocol calls for — to stop Warner's heart.

Warner, 47, had been scheduled to die on the same night as Clayton D. Lockett. If you remember, Lockett's 2014 execution was also botched. A report issued after his death, found that a phlebotomist misplaced the IV line intended to deliver the lethal cocktail of drugs directly into Lockett's bloodstream. Instead, the cocktail was delivered to the surrounding tissue and Lockett eventually died of a heart attack.


According to The Oklahoman, which first reported on Warner's autopsy report, explains:

"The drug vials and syringes used in Warner's execution were submitted to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner after his death. Two of the syringes were labeled with white tape '120 mEq Potassium Chloride,' his autopsy report shows. "However, the 12 empty vials used to fill the syringes are labeled '20mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection, USP 40 mEq\2mEq\mL,' the autopsy report shows."

According to the AP, Oklahoma's execution protocol does allow for some wiggle room in the kind of drugs used in executions.

"The protocols include dosage guidelines for single-drug lethal injections of pentobarbital or sodium pentothal, along with dosages for a three-drug protocol of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride," the AP reported. "The protocols also allow for rocuronium or pancuronium bromide to be substituted for the second drug. The protocols do not list an alternate for potassium chloride, which is the third drug used."

Back in September, Gov. Mary Fallin stopped the execution of Richard Glossip, saying that the state had received potassium acetate rather than potassium chloride.

Following that stay, Robert Patton, Oklahoma's prisons director, told reporters that the state's drug provider told them that the two drugs were interchangeable. Medical professionals say they are two different drugs.


Earlier this month, E. Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma's attorney general, asked a court to issue an indefinite stay for three upcoming executions saying he needs time to consider the change in protocol.

Glossip's attorney, Dale Baich, said in a statement that Oklahoma cannot be trusted to get this procedure right.

"The State's disclosure that it used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride during the execution of Charles Warner yet again raises serious questions about the ability of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to carry out executions," Baich said. "The execution logs for Charles Warner say that he was administered potassium chloride, but now the State says potassium acetate was used. We will explore this in detail through the discovery process in the federal litigation."

Of course, this case again points to the issues surrounding how and where states are getting their execution drugs. 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 turned to so-called compounding pharmacies for novel drug combination that the states and the pharmacies may know little about.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to our request for comment. We'll update once they do.

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