McAlester: Oklahoma officials executed a convicted murderer on Thursday using a drug combination that includes a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals, after a nationwide shortage of a key ingredient forced the state to tinker with the usual formula.
John David Duty was pronounced dead at 6:18 pm at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. The 58-year-old, who was sentenced to die for strangling his cellmate nearly a decade ago, is believed to be the first person in the United States whose execution included the use of pentobarbital.
Strapped to a gurney and wearing an eye patch over his right eye, the heavyset Duty apologised to his victim`s family.
"I hope one day you`ll be able to forgive me, not for my sake, but for your own," Duty said. "Thank you, Lord Jesus. I`m ready to go home."
He also acknowledged three of his attorneys and his brother and sister-in-law, all of whom witnessed the execution from an adjacent room. "You`ve all been a blessing," he told them.
The lethal drugs began to flow at 6:12 pm, and Duty`s breathing became laboured one minute later. At 6:15 pm, he appeared to stop breathing and the colour began to drain from his face.
"There didn`t appear to be any issues with the new drug," Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said afterward.
Duty and two other death-row inmates had challenged the state`s decision to use pentobarbital, arguing it could be inhumane because a person could be paralysed but still aware when a painful third drug is administered to stop the heart. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling against the other two inmates. Duty did not take part in the appeal.
Several states have been scrambling since Hospira Inc — the only US manufacturer of the barbiturate normally used in executions — said new batches of sodium thiopental would not be available until at least January. On Thursday, the company said batches could be available "in the first quarter" of next year.
Executions have been delayed in California, Arkansas, Tennessee and Maryland as a result of protocol changes, including the use of new drugs, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre. In Ohio and Washington, laws were passed to allow for the use of sodium thiopental alone, he said.
But Oklahoma`s law calls for the use of a fast-acting barbiturate to be administered first, which gave the state the flexibility to use pentobarbital, Massie said.
"I think Oklahoma is the only state where this issue has come to a head over a new drug," Dieter said. "The other states that haven`t been able to do it, it`s because the state courts wanted more time to review the overall protocol changes."