- Associated Press - Thursday, April 17, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Thursday for the second time in a month that it is not the place for death-row inmates to go if they want a stay of execution.

Justices wrote that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals should take up stay requests from two inmates scheduled to die in the next two weeks. The appeals court said last week it didn’t have the authority because the inmates hadn’t met all technical requirements under the law.

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner have sued the state seeking more information about the drugs that would be used to kill them. They say they need stays of execution so they can continue their challenge. Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish had ruled in March that the state statute protecting the identities of drug manufacturers was unconstitutional and too broad, as the identities could not even be revealed in court proceedings. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has said it will appeal the ruling.

“It is absolutely essential that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals stay these executions so that the issues can be fully adjudicated before it’s too late,” lawyers for the inmates said in a statement Thursday. “Transparency is the only way to be sure that lethal injection is performed in accordance with state and federal laws and the Constitution. Particularly given the apparent problems with other recent executions, in which prisoners appeared to suffer prolonged and torturous deaths, the state of Oklahoma must not move forward with executions in this climate of extreme secrecy until the courts can fully review all claims.”

The justices wrote that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in not taking up the request, and that appellate court’s determination should be the final one under Oklahoma law. The justices urged the Court of Criminal Appeals to take up the matter quickly because of the short timeline for these executions.

“Both appeals present first impression constitutional claims which, if resolved in the prisoner’s favor, might well support alterations in the execution process,” the justices wrote, urging the appellate court “to be cognizant of the time restraints” associated with the case “along with the gravity” of the issues.

Lockett is scheduled to die Tuesday and Warner is slated to die a week later.

Aaron Cooper, spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, said Lockett and Warner’s lawyers “continue to file motions in courts without authority to grant the relief they seek in an attempt to delay the sentences imposed on them by an Oklahoma jury for the heinous murders they committed.”

Now that the state is utilizing manufactured drugs, Cooper said many of the inmates’ arguments are no longer relevant.

“The constant shell game these attorneys are playing only seeks to distract the public from the truth that these offenders murdered two innocent victims, and are seeking to delay the consequence of their actions,” Cooper said.

Lockett was found guilty of the 1999 shooting death of a 19-year-old woman, Stephanie Nieman. Warner was convicted for the 1997 death of his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter.

Two justices dissented from Thursday’s ruling, referring back to the court’s previous rulings in this case that all matters, not just the execution dates, should be handled by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

“I warned in a previous dissent that this court was crossing the Rubicon in its refusal to transfer this case to the proper court and now it is clear that the appellants are taking full advantage of our being on the wrong side of the proverbial river,” wrote Justice Steven W. Taylor.

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