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Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol unconstitutional: judge

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma judge ruled on Wednesday that the state's execution procedures were unconstitutional because they do not allow inmates proper access to the courts when it comes to the drugs used in lethal injections.

County district court judge Patricia Parrish ruled that the state violated due process protections in the U.S. Constitution by not providing the name of the drug supplier, the combination of chemicals and the dosages used in implementing the death penalty.

The judgment comes as more states have trouble obtaining the lethal chemicals used in executions because of restrictions placed on their sale by drugmakers. It also strengthens the arguments made by lawyers that untested chemicals may could cause undo suffering.

The Oklahoma case was brought by lawyers for two inmates, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, who were due to be executed this month but their sentences were pushed back until April because the state said it could not obtain the drugs it has used for years in its lethal cocktail.

In response, Oklahoma last week proposed a protocol that would allow the Department of Corrections to choose from five potential lethal injection combinations to be used in executions, according to court documents.

Oklahoma had been using three main drugs to carry out executions - the sedative pentobarbital, vecuronium bromide, which stops respiration, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart - according to the state's department of corrections.

Lawyers for the inmates argued the untested and undisclosed combinations could cause undo suffering, violating the U.S. Constitution's protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawyers were seeking to know what drugs would be used and who would provide the chemicals.

Several U.S. states, including Missouri, Ohio, Florida and Georgia have been turning to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies for drugs to use in lethal injections, after pharmaceutical companies stopped allowing sales of their drugs for executions.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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