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Oklahoma Delays Next Execution For 6 Months


On a Friday, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The state of Oklahoma now has at least six more months to get to know Charles Warner. He's a man who was scheduled to die, is sentenced for a brutal crime. But the state attorney general agreed to a stay of execution. That gives the state time to investigate the way it puts people to death. The investigation follows the execution of Clayton Lockett, a proceeding that took 43 minutes and intensified debate over the death penalty.

Rachel Hubbard, of member station KOSU, reports.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: Charles Warner is a name a lot of people hadn't heard of before a few weeks ago. But now, he's the guy whose life hangs in the balance. He was supposed to be executed last week for raping and killing an infant but now, he just waits. While Oklahoma decides how, when and if to execute him, he waits in a prison, two hours from the nondescript brick home in Oklahoma City where he used to live.

HUBBARD: At a local laundromat, no one has ever met him. But they talk about how he should die, and whether or not Oklahoma actually did botch last week's execution of Clayton Lockett.

Janet Allen works the front counter. She agrees with the death penalty, but says the Lockett execution makes her think the state should reconsider its methods.

JANET ALLEN: I think that was wrong. I, you know, I think they should have maybe did more experiments on it before they did that because that was cruel. That was unfair.

HUBBARD: Joe Brandenburg joins the conversation as he repairs a washing machine here.

JOE BRANDENBURG: Was it cruel and unusual what he did to that woman? I mean, he got what he deserved.

HUBBARD: It's unclear how many Oklahomans support the death penalty. Nationally, polls indicate that about 60 percent of Americans favor the death penalty, but it's unclear if that number has changed since last week. While state officials investigate what went wrong in Lockett's execution, death penalty opponents here are planning their next legal challenge. The question is what tack they will take. Do defense attorneys try to challenge their clients' sentences, or just buy them more time?

Brady Henderson is the legal director for ACLU, Oklahoma.

BRAD HENDERSON: More long term, there are other things we're likely to see, too. And one of them, I think, is going to be larger litigation. And I think that there will be more litigation challenging the secrecy laws that have led us on a really unprecedented track, as a state, up to Lockett's execution.

HUBBARD: Those secrecy laws allowed the state to conceal information about the makeup of the execution drug cocktail. Other court challenges might involve the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

At the state Capitol, some lawmakers want to do away with lethal injections, but they still want to keep the death penalty. Here's Republican Rep. Mike Christian.

STATE REP. MIKE CHRISTIAN: The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Supreme Court said it's OK to have a little bit of pain, whether it's through the electric chair, gas chamber, hanging, firing squad. So we may look at that, and some would say that's barbaric. I don't like using those kind of terms. Oklahoma's not barbaric. We just want justice, and we want justice served.

HUBBARD: Christian and other lawmakers want to eliminate lethal injection as a way of circumventing anticipated legal challenges from death row inmates and their attorneys. State Sen. Connie Johnson has fought for years against the death penalty, but her legislation never gets anywhere. She says here, the political will just doesn't exist.

STATE SEN. CONNIE JOHNSON: It's just consistently fighting against the wind in Oklahoma, but we've never viewed this as any more than a continuation of our effort to educate.


HUBBARD: Back at the laundromat, people say they're starting to get tired of this talk about the death penalty. But with 49 more inmates on death row here, all the talk - and all the court challenges - aren't likely to end anytime soon.

For NPR News, I'm Rachel Hubbard, in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Hubbard is a 20-year news veteran and serves as KOSU's executive director.