- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma’s highest court isn’t the right place for inmates to seek stays of execution as they challenge a “veil of secrecy” around execution procedures, the state’s attorney general’s office said Wednesday.

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, who are set to die this month, have asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court for stays pending a hearing in their lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. Lockett is scheduled to die March 20 and Warner a week later.

The inmates want to find out what drugs will be used in their execution, where, when and from whom the drugs were obtained and how the drugs have been stored.

An Oklahoma County District Court judge says she’s willing to take on the civil case but that she cannot set aside their execution date. The men have asked the state Supreme Court to halt their executions, but the attorney general’s office said Wednesday the Court of Criminal Appeals is the right venue.

A federal judge looked at the case last week and sent it back to state court.

The state Supreme Court plans to take up the stay request Thursday.

The inmates’ lawyers say the Department of Corrections could avoid a stay of execution requests by simply revealing its protocol and the nature and source of its execution drugs. They say the state’s court filings are intended only as a means of “forum manipulation … to prevent any court from addressing the substance of (the inmates’) claims before they are executed.”

The state, however, said the inmates filings are merely a “thinly veiled attempt to artfully plead around the jurisdiction of the federal court or continuing to pursue a stay in any other court than the (Court of Criminal Appeals) which clearly is the only Oklahoma court with authority to grant a stay of execution.”

The sides differ, too, on whether only a criminal court can issue a stay of execution. The men’s lawyers say that since the challenge to state procedures is a civil case, any state or federal judge should be allowed to intervene.

“The purpose behind the secrecy of the protocol is … to impede a condemned person’s ability to have the method of execution scrutinized by any court, and to impede a condemned person’s access to the courts,” the inmates’ lawyers wrote.

In response, the state suggests that the inmate’s lawyers have an available avenue for their claims - the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals - but “they simply will not use it.”

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