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Federal appeals court declines to halt execution of Oklahoma death row inmates

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Oklahoma pushed hard to resume executions after a six-year moratorium. (File photo)

A US federal appeals court has rejected a request for four Oklahoma death row inmates to stay their executions while they challenge the state’s lethal injection protocols.

Julius Jones, Wade Lay, Donald Grant, and Gilbert Postelle had filed a lawsuit, asserting that Oklahoma’s three-drug execution method causes pain and suffering that amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment.

They argued that the use of the execution cocktail that consists of a sedative called midazolam, vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, and potassium chloride, which is administered after the vecuronium bromide to stop the heart, is severely painful.

However, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied their request, calling the four inmates' execution sentence "constitutional."

The four “are not paying for their religious beliefs with their lives; at most they are forfeiting a delay in execution of a sentence that ... is constitutional in their case,” the panel wrote in its ruling.

The panel also noted that other courts, including the US Supreme Court, have upheld the use of midazolam.

Jen Moreno, an attorney for the four inmates, called the 10th Circuit’s ruling “inexplicable.”

“We’re kind of in the process of figuring out what’s next,” she told The Associated Press. “Our team is spending this weekend looking over the ruling.”

The four men are all scheduled to be killed in the coming months.

Their lawsuit came after Oklahoma administered the death penalty on African-American John Grant, 60, in October. On the gurney in the execution chamber, Grant began convulsing and vomiting after officials administered the midazolam.

The botched execution of Grant, who was put to death for the 1998 murder of a prison cafeteria worker, marked a deep embarrassment for Oklahoma that previously came under sharp criticism over a spate of flawed procedures.

No judicial killings had taken place in the state since 2015.

In 2018, state officials announced they would abandon lethal injections entirely over concerns about a lack of transparency and the inhumane executions that had taken place. But in August Oklahoma reversed that decision without an explanation.

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