John David Duty is scheduled to be executed in McAlester, Okla. later today for murdering his cellmate, Curtis Wise, in 2001. Like other states, Oklahoma has trouble locating one of the three drugs used together to put condemned prisoners to death, as USA Today finds here. Prison officials received permission from a federal appeals court this week to substitute pentobarbital for sodium thiopental, commonly used in the execution procedure. NPR's Kathy Lohr reported for Morning Edition that Duty's court case turned on whether the use of pentobarbital, used to euthanize animals, is cruel and unusual punishment.
In court briefs filed on his behalf, attorneys argue that pentobarbital is unsafe and is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They say there have been numerous problems in executions across the country even with the drug that has been tested. Defense lawyers also say the new drug is not an ultra-short-acting barbiturate, as the law requires.
The Wall Street Journal's law blogger, Nathan Koppel, writes the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Oklahoma, finding the state 'will use enough pentobarbital to achieve a quick death and that the chances of inmates suffering pain are “virtually nil.”'