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Jerald Harjo, 1992

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 Thursday.

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 County woman.

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 Department.

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 hospital.

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 state.

Updated: 18 July 2001 Website by