More than two-dozen inmates are up for execution after a federal judge "okayed" Oklahoma's lethal injection method.
Specifically, the three-drug cocktail behind at least two high-profile botched executions.
10th Circuit Judge Stephen Friot wrote that he relied on the often-conflicting testimony of medical professionals to make his decision.
Especially from Dr. Ervin Yen, who has used one of the drugs in the controversial protocol, midazolam, thousands of times in daily practice.
“Rarely, in any field of litigation, does a court see and hear well-qualified expert witnesses giving exert testimony as squarely – and emphatically – as contradictory…as this case,” said Judge Friot.
But relied on the testimony of anesthesiologist and gubernatorial candidate Dr. Yen, who he called a “fresh face in this case, and a credible one at that.”
Dr. Yen has experience using midazolam, one of the drugs in question in the three-drug cocktail.
Autopsy reports of executed inmates Gilbert Postelle and John Grant – found that both died with an excessive amount of fluid in their lungs, along with "minimal pulmonary edema," a condition that can make breathing extremely difficult.
Plaintiff’s plan to appeal the ruling – their attorney saying in a statement it ignores evidence presented in trial that Oklahoma’s protocol creates an unacceptable risk that prisoners will experience severe pain and suffering.
Victim’s advocates express relief.
“It doesn’t make everything ok for them, but it does give them some closure and some end game, if you will. Because there are some individuals that have been fighting this fight for 20 years and nobody asked for that, they didn’t ask for that,” said Amy Kingry, organizer with Victim’s Innocence Project.
Death penalty opponents say Oklahoma’s criminal justice system is too problematic for the death penalty to continue.
“Not just error but unfairness. It treats people differently because of money and race and where the murder happens. All of those things matter more than the severity of the crime,” said Abraham Bonowitz, Death Penalty Action Now Director.
The Attorney General's office says they are reviewing the judge's order before requesting execution dates for the 28 eligible inmates on death row – that’s expected to happen this week.
“The State has proven that the drugs and method of execution satisfy the United States and Oklahoma constitutions,” Attorney General O’Connor emphasized. “The Court’s ruling is definitive: The plaintiffs in this case ‘have fallen well short’ of making their case, and midazolam, as the State has repeatedly shown, ‘can be relied upon… to render the inmate insensate to pain.’”