- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - While a debate continues over whether a significant portion of Arkansas’ execution procedures should be kept as an official state secret, a glance to its western neighbor may be in order.

Arkansas lawmakers took most execution details behind closed doors this year, saying the public, press and inmates had no right to know key details about which drugs would be used to put condemned killers to death. The result: delays due to a lawsuit filed by death row inmates, who fear the chemicals might not work as intended, resulting in a cruel and unusual punishment.

It could be worse. Oklahoma’s last three execution attempts - all coming after it refused to say how it was obtaining the drugs - were roundly, internationally criticized. The problems were as follows:

- In Clayton Lockett’s botched execution in April 2014, state investigators concluded prison workers placed his intravenous line incorrectly and that some of the lethal drugs spilled outside his body. The injection site wasn’t monitored because it was at his groin; out of modesty concerns for those watching Lockett’s execution, the warden asked that he be covered up.

- Oklahoma then had a major overhaul of its execution procedures, including retraining the execution team and imposing various checklists to ensure Oklahoma was getting it right. It didn’t. The next two execution attempts went wrong.

- Records first obtained by The Oklahoman newspaper showed Charles Warner received an incorrect drug in January - eight months before the same wrong drug was shipped in for Richard Glossip’s execution.

- Gov. Mary Fallin stopped Glossip’s execution last month, citing the incorrect drug shipment, and didn’t know until then that Warner had received the wrong drug. In the ensuing tumult, the state indefinitely delayed three impending executions. Could it be prison department secrecy even impacted her?

Arkansas hasn’t had an execution in nearly 10 years, as inmates and the state fought over whether legislators ceded too much control over the lethal injection process to the Department of Correction. The lethal drug supply dried up, too, with pharmaceutical companies refusing to sell to states if their products were intended for use in executions.

The state was due to resume executions Oct. 21 and had eight planned through Jan. 14, but a judge delayed them Friday, after the inmates questioned how the state’s secrecy fits in with Arkansas’ 2013 pledge to the inmates that it would share details about the execution drugs.

Some key information that is out there - the likely manufacturers of the lethal drugs - became public only last month after The Associated Press cross-referenced partially redacted state records with data from federal and pharmaceutical company sources. The state’s goal was to prevent even that information from getting out.

In an effort to prevent future delays, state Rep. Doug House proposed last spring that Arkansas not say where it obtains its drugs - despite the attorney general’s office agreement to share information - and said we could trust state prison officials to enforce quality-control.

That’s what is done in Oklahoma, and a lawyer who asked to delay the Arkansas inmates’ executions had taken notice. He added to the court files Thursday details about Oklahoma’s trouble - which can be traced to secrecy laws, because surely someone somewhere along the line would have noticed whether an execution drug disclosed to the public bore the wrong label.

So, Arkansas, is your turn coming on the international stage?


Kissel has been Arkansas news editor for The Associated Press since 1994 and Oklahoma news editor since 2009. He has witnessed eight executions between the two states in the last 21 years. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kisselAP

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