OKLAHOMA CITY — After Oklahoma bungled its last two lethal injections and had a third called off amid a drug mix-up, executions have come to a halt in a state that typically has one of the busiest death chambers in the country.
A moratorium on the death penalty is in effect while a multicounty grand jury led by Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office investigates how the wrong drug was delivered to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the last two lethal injections.
One inmate was executed in January 2015 with the wrong drug, and a second man, Richard Glossip, was just moments away from his scheduled injection in September when prison officials noticed they received the same wrong drug.
The grand jury, which has been looking into the drug mix-ups since October, meets for a few days each month and is investigating several other matters. The panel, which meets behind closed doors, recessed on Thursday without issuing a final report of its findings in the execution probe.
“The time allotted this session did not permit the grand jury to complete its investigation of the matters heard,” the grand jury’s foreman wrote in an interim report.
The grand jury will resume its investigations April 12, allowing time for investigators to summon additional witnesses and gather more physical evidence, the report notes.
Pruitt has said he will not ask the court to resume executions until at least five months after the report is made public.
It is the second de facto moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma over the past two years.
The first came during a Department of Public Safety investigation into a botched April 2014 lethal injection that blamed the problems on an improperly placed injection needle and poor training.
During the delays, five Oklahoma death row inmates exhausted their appeals and are awaiting execution dates. The state’s new interim prisons director, Joe Allbaugh, has said the execution team is continuing to prepare for a lethal injection.
Senate Bill 884, requested by the state Department of Corrections to allow the lethal injection chemicals to be stored at the prison, cleared two House committees last week and could be scheduled for a final vote in the full House.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, Oklahoma ranks second only to Texas in the number of executions carried out, and it has the busiest death chamber in the nation based on its population, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
Meanwhile, former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry announced last week he would help lead a panel of experts for an independent review of Oklahoma’s entire system of capital punishment.
Henry will co-chair the panel with former Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Reta Strubhar and former U.S. Magistrate Judge Andy Lester. That commission is working with The Constitution Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research and policy group dedicated to helping solve some of the country’s most difficult constitutional challenges.
“Oklahoma has an opportunity to lead the nation by being the first state to conduct extensive research on its entire death penalty process, beginning with an arrest that could lead to an execution,” Henry said in a statement.
During Henry’s two terms in office, nearly 50 Oklahoma inmates were put to death.
He granted clemency to at least three convicted killers, commuting their death sentences to life in prison without parole.
That commission is expected to issue a report in early 2017.