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Oklahoma High Court Lifts Stay of Execution for Convicted Murderers

The Oklahoma Supreme Court apparently cleared the way for the execution of two convicted murderers by reversing a lower court’s ruling.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Wednesday apparently cleared the way for the execution of two convicted murderers by reversing a lower court’s ruling that found a state secrecy law unconstitutional.

The justices also dissolved a stay of execution they had made earlier in the week.

The death row inmates had challenged their execution on the grounds they had a right to know the source of the drugs in a planned lethal injection cocktail. A district court judge had agreed and declared the state’s secrecy law unconstitutional because it restricted the inmates access to the courts.

But the state's high court held Wednesday that the Department of Corrections execution protocol did not fall under the state secrecy law.

The court had issued the stay of execution Monday to review appeals brought by both inmates and the state corrections department. It came just one day before Clayton Lockett was scheduled to be executed 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.

Both inmates are scheduled to be executed on April 29.

“The Court today affirmed long standing precedent that the source of the execution drugs should remain confidential to avoid these types of schemes and intimidation used by defense counsel and other anti-death penalty groups,” Diane Clay of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office told NBC station KFOR. “These death row inmates have not contested their guilt for murdering two innocent victims nor have they contested their sentences of death. The legal wrangling of the attorneys for Lockett and Warner has served only to delay their punishment for the heinous crimes they committed.”

Seth Day, the attorney for Lockett and Warner, issued a statement on court's ruling late Wednesday.

"It is unacceptable that Oklahomans have no way of knowing that the scheduled upcoming executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner would be carried out in a constitutional and humane manner," he said. "It's not even known whether the lethal injection drugs to be used were obtained legally, and nothing is known about their source, purity, or efficacy, among other questions. Oklahoma's extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection undermines our courts and democracy."

— Jeff Black