McALESTER hospital stops providing drug for state executions

Friday, July 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) _ An anti-death penalty group's request played a role in a McAlester hospital's decision to no longer provide the Oklahoma Department of Corrections with drugs to execute prison inmates.

Jerry Massie, Corrections Department spokesman, said the agency will find another supplier of the drugs. The hospital's decision shouldn't delay the execution of Jerald Wayne Harjo, who is scheduled to die July 17, Massie said.

The agency will likely turn to its internal pharmacies to supply the drugs, Massie said.

For 20 years, the department bought the drugs _ a lethal mix of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride _ from McAlester Regional Health Center.

The drugs were used at the death chamber at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

The hospital reconsidered its policy after being contacted by Human Rights Watch, an organization that opposes the death penalty.

In a June 14 letter to hospital officials, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Allyson Collins asked the facility to stop providing the drugs.

``Revelations that tainted evidence may have been used in capital trials in Oklahoma make your institution's participation in the administration of capital punishment particularly disturbing,'' Collins wrote, referring to an investigation into Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist.

The group also mentioned Robert Lee Miller, who spent seven years on death row before being freed in 1998 after DNA evidence showed he wasn't guilty of the crime for which he was convicted.

Gilchrist worked on the Miller case.

In a letter a week later, Joel Tate, the hospital's chief executive officer, wrote that the practice of providing the drugs was a long-standing tradition, but the board had only recently been made aware of it.

Tate wrote that it would be inappropriate for him or the board to make a decision based on their personal opinions about capital punishment.

``What does seem clear ... is that assisting the state in the implementation of the death penalty seems inconsistent with the mission of a community hospital,'' Tate wrote.

``Therefore, we have recently informed the state that effective immediately we will no longer be providing lethal drugs to the state for this purpose.''

Tate was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The drugs in question are regularly used by hospitals nationwide, Massie said. Sodium thiopental causes unconsciousness. Pancuronium bromide stops breathing. Potassium chloride stops the heart.

Oklahoma has used this combination of drugs to execute death row inmates since 1990.

Massie said this is the first time a lobbying group has caused a vendor to stop doing business with the Corrections Department.

Oklahoma has executed 13 people this year.