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Okla. Courts Halt Executions in Fight Over Drug Secrecy

State courts squabble over jurisdiction
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2014 1:49 AM CDT
2 Oklahoma Executions Stayed Over Drug Secrecy
This June 29, 2011 photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, shows Charles Warner.    (AP Photo/Oklahoma Department of Corrections, File)

(Newser) – The execution of two murderers in Oklahoma has been delayed once again amid legal battles over drug secrecy. A judge ruled last month that it would be unconstitutional for the state to conceal the source of the drugs it plans to use to execute Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, but it took what the New York Times calls "a Kafkaesque legal showdown" over jurisdiction between the state's Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals before the former finally agreed to grant a stay of execution.

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The state Supreme Court blasted the appeals court for its refusal to "exercise its rightfully placed jurisdiction" before granting the stay a day before Lockett, who raped and murdered a 19-year-old woman in 1999, was due to be executed, the Oklahoman reports. Warner, who raped and murdered his girlfriend's 11-month-old daughter in 1997, was scheduled to die a week later. With the stay, the state's top court "will be able to fully adjudicate the serious constitutional issues about the extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection procedures in our state," lawyers for the two men said, though the state accused the defendants of derailing the justice system with "baseless speculation of theoretical harms raised in improper venues." After the execution of the two men was delayed last month because of a drug shortage, the state decided the warden responsible could choose from any of five lethal-injection options. (Read more Oklahoma stories.)

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