Oklahoma used the wrong drug to execute a death row inmate in January, an autopsy released today suggested.
Officials used bottles labeled potassium acetate when giving a lethal injection to Charles Frederick Warner on Jan. 15, according to his autopsy report, which was published by The Oklahoman. They were supposed to use potassium chloride.
"My body is on fire," Warner said as he died.
Potassium chloride is the final drug of a three-drug cocktail, and it's used to stop a convict's heart. While the state's guidelines allow for flexibility on the other two drugs used, they specifically require potassium chloride to be used.
Last week, the state delayed the execution of Richard Glossip, another death row inmate, when officials realized hours before the execution was set to take place that their supplier sent them potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. Gov. Mary Fallin said the execution would be postponed until next month as officials determined whether potassium acetate could be used.
It's not clear how similar the two drugs are. Dr. Alice Chen, an internal medicine specialist and executive director of Doctors for America, told the AP that they weren't interchangeable. "As with any other drug, people react to them in different ways," she said. But Oklahoma prisons director Robert Patton said that the supplier's "professional opinion was that potassium acetate is medically interchangeable with potassium chloride at the same quantity." The supplier is being kept confidential under state law.
State Attorney General Scott Pruitt started an investigation into the confusion between the drugs after Glossip's execution was postponed, and said yesterday that his investigation would cover Warner's execution and past executions as well.
As companies cease production of execution drugs over anti-death penalty sentiment, it's becoming increasingly difficult for states to get the chemicals they need to carry the death penalty out. Some states have tried unsuccessfully to import other, non-FDA approved drugs from outside the country.
Warner, who was convicted in 2003 of raping and killing an 11-month-old girl, had been on death row since then. "No one should go through this. I'm not afraid to die. We's all going to die," he said during the execution, according to witnesses.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.