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Oklahoma has used the wrong drug labels during at least three recent executions, prison officials said Friday during testimony in a federal trial on whether the state’s three-drug lethal injection method is unconstitutional.
>> Related: Federal trial over Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol heads into second week
Despite the improper labels, Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow and his chief of operations, Justin Farris, both testified that they were confident the proper drugs were used during each of the executions.
“I am 100% confident that all executions have used the proper drugs,” Crow told U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot.
Farris said the labels read “rocuronium bromide” instead of “vecuronium bromide,” which is a paralytic and the second of three drugs used in Oklahoma’s method. Farris said he believes the “rocuronium bromide” labels were used in training exercises and were never replaced.
Both drugs are similar paralytics, and Oklahoma’s execution protocols authorize the use of rocuronium bromide, although the protocols require prison officials to notify inmates if they intend to substitute any of the drugs.
Friot, who has held numerous hearings dating back years scrutinizing problems with Oklahoma’s execution protocols, seemed surprised that such a mix-up could occur.
“After all we’ve been through … surely that was bordering on inconceivable to you?” Friot asked Crow.
“Yes, sir. It was,” Crow responded. “I was not at all happy about that development.”
Crow said the department is looking into why the improper labels were used and that it expects to issue a report soon.
With an inmate moments from being led to the death chamber in September 2015, executions were halted after prison officials learned the wrong drug had been delivered for the lethal injection. It was later learned that the same wrong drug had been used to execute another inmate in January of that year. That led to a nearly seven-year moratorium on the death penalty in the state.
After a series of lengthy court cases, Oklahoma resumed lethal injections in October and has carried out three more since. The 28 death row inmates who are challenging the state’s three-drug method as unconstitutional have all exhausted their appeals, and are likely to be scheduled for executions if Friot determines Oklahoma’s current protocols are constitutional.
During five days of testimony this week, Friot has heard from numerous experts in pharmacology and anesthesiology who have offered different opinions on whether the first drug used in Oklahoma’s protocol, the sedative midazolam, is appropriate to ensure an inmate cannot feel pain during the rest of the procedure.
A final day of testimony is expected on Monday.
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