Hospital stops sales of execution drugs
McALESTER -- The state Corrections Department's sole provider
of drugs used in executions said it will no longer sell the
chemicals to the state, prompting corrections officials to find
another source before Oklahoma's next scheduled execution.
For 20 years, the department bought the drugs -- a lethal mix
of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride
-- from McAlester Regional Health Center. The drugs are used at
the Oklahoma State Penitentiary's death chamber. The prison is
also in McAlester.
But the hospital stopped sales after being pressured by Human
Rights Watch,an organization that opposes the death penalty. In a
letter to Human Rights Watch, the hospital's chief executive
officer, Joel Tate, agreed that the hospital shouldn't be selling
drugs used in executions. "What does seem clear ... is that
assisting the state in the implementation of the death penalty
seems inconsistent with the mission of a community hospital,"Tate
wrote. "Therefore, we have recently informed the state that
effective immediately we will no longer be providing lethal drugs
to the state for this purpose." Tate was unavailable for comment
Jerry Massie, Corrections Department spokesman, said the
agency will find another supplier of the drugs. The hospital's
decision shouldn't delay the state's next execution, that of
Jerald Wayne Harjo, who is scheduled to die July 17, he said.
Harjo was sentenced to die for the 1988 slaying of a Seminole
The drugs in question are regularly used by hospitals
nationwide, Massie said. Sodium thiopental causes
unconsciousness. Pancuronium bromide stops breathing. Potassium
chloride stops the heart. Oklahoma has used this combination of
drugs to execute death row inmates since 1990.
Massie said this is the first time a lobbying group has caused
a vendor to stop doing business with the Corrections
In its letter to the hospital, Human Rights Watch mentioned
several recent developments, including allegations of faulty
testimony given by Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist.
The group also mentioned Robert Lee Miller, who spent seven years
on death row before being freed in 1998 after DNA evidence showed
he wasn't guilty of the crime for which he was convicted.
Gilchrist worked on the Miller case.
"Revelations that tainted evidence may have been used in
capital trials in Oklahoma make your institution's participation
in the administration of capital punishment particularly
disturbing," the organization said in a letter to the
Tate told the group that hospital officials were "not aware of
our involvement" in supplying drugs to the state because until
recent years, executions were relatively rare.
Oklahoma has executed 13 people this year, more than any other