Oklahoma Court Stays Executions of Two Convicted Murderers

Image:  The gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla.
The gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla.,AP

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the executions of two convicted murderers Monday, NBC News has confirmed, capping off a twisty legal saga in which the death row inmates challenged the state's secrecy protocol surrounding the source of lethal injection drugs.

Lawyers for the two death row inmates had filed a renewed application earlier Monday for an emergency stay.

The court said the stay was issued until "final determination of all issues presently pending before this court ... along with all issues that may be brought by (the corrections department) ... and any legal challenges that may arise as a result of this court's resolution of those issues are actively litigated."

In a 5-4 decision late Monday, the court issued the stay just one day before Clayton Lockett was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. for the 1999 shooting death of 19-year-old Stephen Nieman.

The second death row inmate, Charles Warner, was convicted in the 1997 death of his roommate's 11-month-old daughter. He was slated to be executed on April 29.

In a statement, lawyers for the two men said they were "relieved and extremely grateful" to the court.

"With today's stay, the Oklahoma Supreme Court will be able to fully adjudicate the serious constitutional issues about the extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection procedures in our state," Sussana Gattoni and Seth Day said.

Charles Warner, left, and Clayton Lockett.Oklahoma Department of Corrections / AP file

Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish last month struck down the state's execution law. Parrish said the protocol that barred the inmates from seeking information about the drugs used in lethal injections violated their rights under the state constitution.

The state altered its execution protocol March 21 to allow give different potential drug combinations for execution. The state told lawyers for the inmates April 1 that their clients would be executed using a combination of midazolman, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride never used in the state.

But a request for a stay filed Monday said the inmates "have received no certifications, testing data, medical opinions or other evidence to support the state's insistence that these drugs are safe, or to prove that they were acquired legally."

— Al Henkel and Daniel Arkin with The Associated Press