Public record documents uncovered by reporter Katie Fretland at the Colorado Independent reveal new, disturbing facts about lethal injection in Oklahoma including untoward jokes made by assistant attorneys general involved in the acquisition of lethal injection drugs. The documents show that Oklahoma has been injecting unused drugs into the bodies of the condemned, which rendered postmortem autopsies unreliable; and creating ‘petty cash’ accounts in order to hide financial transactions relating to the buying of the drugs.
In response to a request from Texas for advice on how to deal with the scarcity of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental, records show that Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham quipped in a January 2011 email to a colleague that Oklahoma might cooperate in exchange for much sought-after 50-yard-line tickets to the Red River Rivalry, a football game between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. In a reply, fellow Assistant Attorney General Stephen J. Krise joked that for Oklahoma’s assistance Texas’s team should intentionally lose several games.
“Looks like they waited until the last minute and now need help from those they refused to help earlier,” Krise wrote. “So, I propose we help if TX promises to take a dive in the OU-TX game for the next 4 years.”
Attorney general lawyers serve not only as legal advisors to state agencies but also as law enforcers. Banter about exchanging lethal injection help for football tickets and other favors raises questions about how seriously Oklahoma officials take the death penalty, which they have meted out about four to five times a year since 1990…
As Texas’s supply of sodium thiopental was about to expire, Texas Assistant Attorney General Laura Grant Turbin wrote a mass email to other states’ assistant attorneys general in January 2011 asking how they’ve legally argued for using what she called “substitute drugs” for executions.
That’s when Branham and Krise in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office started joking about what they should get for helping out.
“The mention of a football game was merely in jest and along the lines of cop humor among dedicated professionals who deal with very serious and weighty issues on a daily basis,” Diane Clay, spokeswoman for the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said in a statement to The Independent.
She noted that the emails “were part of many months of discussion and conversation about what various states faced with a lack of supply for carrying out the statutorily required punishment chosen by a jury.”
Branham was apparently amused by the fact that Texas needed help after having hogged sodium thiopental supplies in the past. In November 2010, Texas had 39 doses of sodium thiopental while Oklahoma and other states had run out. Texas declined to share even though the 39 doses were, according to media reports, set to expire in March 2011 and the state only had three executions planned.
“Looks like they waited until the last minute and now need help from those they refused to help earlier,” Branham wrote.
In an email to his colleague, he dubbed the group of Oklahoma officials who had been working to procure lethal injection drugs — “Team Pentobarbital,” As the joke went, the prospect of helping Texas meet its lethal injection needs after having been thwarted was so generous that it entitled them to public adulation and free perks.
Branham emailed Krise that he would “forgive and forget with sideline passes for Team Pentobarbital (you, me, Martha, the Warden, Mike Oakley, plus anyone else we can think of who is deserving) to the 2011 OU-Texas game plus an on-field presentation of a commemorative plaque at halftime recognizing Oklahoma’s on-going contributions to propping up the Texas system of capital punishment.”
His wish list of payback didn’t end with football.
“And throw in lifetime passes for the North Dallas Tollway, Highway 121 and the Bush Turnpike,” he wrote. “That would be a good deal.”
See an online copy of the email exchanges here.
Read the full story from the Colorado Independent here.