'Careless and Cavalier': Grand Jury Issues Scathing Report on Botched Oklahoma Executions

FILE - This Oct. 9, 2014 file photo shows the gurney in the the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla.Sue Ogrocki / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Tracy Connor

An Oklahoma grand jury investigating botched execution procedures issued a blistering report on Thursday documenting a top-to-bottom failure to ensure the correct lethal injection drugs would be used.

The interim report detailed confusion and carelessness in the execution process — from a pharmacist who ordered the wrong chemicals to a top state official who argued it didn’t matter and challenged a skeptic to "Google it."

“Justice has been delayed for the victims' families and the citizens of Oklahoma, and confidence further shaken in the ability of this State to carry out the death penalty,” the grand jury wrote, recommending a revamp of the protocol, more training and consideration of an entirely new execution method.

The panel focused on the Jan. 2015 execution of Charles Warner and the aborted September 2015 execution of Richard Glossip.

Under the protocol, both men were supposed to be put to death with a three-drug cocktail that included potassium chloride.

Related: Autopsy Shows Oklahoma Used Wrong Drug to Execute Man

In Warner’s case, the executioners mistakenly used potassium acetate — a mixup that was not discovered until someone noticed the wrong drugs had also been ordered for Glossip.

The pharmacist conceded he made a mistake in the order, blaming it on "pharmacy brain" — being more focused on the concentrations than the name of the drug, the report said.

A wide range of Corrections Department officials failed to notice the wrong drugs had been received for the Warner execution, from the general counsel to the IV team leader, who admitted being distracted by the need to calculate the proper formulations of the drugs.

“I’m not very good at math in my head,” the leader said, adding, “I just totally dropped the ball."

The fact that the wrong drug was used was not discovered until Glossip’s execution date, when it nearly happened again.

The grand jury hammered Steve Mullins, who was then general counsel to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, for advocating the state move ahead with the Glossip execution using the potassium acetate.

When a prosecutor objected, Mullins said potassium chloride and potassium acetate were basically the same.

“Google it,” Mullins told the prosecutor, according to the report.

After the Glossip execution was called off and officials were drafting an announcement, Mullins objected to using the phrase “wrong drug” in the explanation because it “would require having to inform people the wrong drug had been used in Warner’s execution,” the grand jury wrote.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt noted that the grand jury recommended the state investigate the feasibility of using nitrogen hypoxia, a gas which starves the brain of oxygen, to replace lethal injection as Oklahoma’s method of execution.

Related: Oklahoma Governor Halts Richard Glossip Execution at Last Minute

Pruitt said the report made it clear that the Corrections Department “failed to do its job.”

“A number of individuals responsible for carrying out the execution process were careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive of established procedures that were intended to guard against the very mistakes that occurred,” he said.