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Oklahoma has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to issue stays of executions for three death-row inmates scheduled for lethal injection this week because the justices are set to hear a challenge to one of the drugs the state uses.
Convicted murderers Garcia White, Richard Glossip, and Robert Ladd have execution dates for Wednesday and Thursday, but the high court won't rule on whether the lethal-injection formula is constitutional until the summer. The state believes that because the dates are already scheduled, only the court has the authority to put them on hold until a decision is made.
On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed for the first time since 2008 to hear a challenge to lethal injections, but they didn't block any pending executions at that time. Seven years ago, executions across the country ground to a halt while the justices considered — and ultimately rejected — the earlier challenge.
The new case centers on Oklahoma's use of the sedative midazolam as the first chemical in a three-drug combination. Defense lawyers say it's not strong enough to block the pain of the second and third drugs.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said executions in the state should be on hold until the court either OKs midazolam or an alternative is found. But he said the state is committed to putting the three men to death.
"It is important that we act in order to best serve the interests of the victims of these horrific crimes and the State's obligation to ensure justice in each and every case," Pruitt said in a statement.
"The families of the victims in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for the sentences of these heinous crimes to be carried out. Two federal courts have previously held the current protocol as constitutional, and we believe the United States Supreme Court will find the same."
Dale Baich, one of the inmates' lawyers, said in a statement: "We agree that it is appropriate that executions in Oklahoma should be stayed while the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the case."
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