Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 5.1.2014

Drug Secrecy and a Botched Execution

A few weeks ago we wrote about the problems states are having in getting the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections.

Over the last 24 hours, headlines have emerged around the country and the world about Oklahoma’s drug secrecy and their most recent botched execution attempt.


In Oklahoma two executions were forthcoming and the state was scrambling for drugs.  With plans to use a new three drug cocktail and no public information about the drug suppliers, the lawyers of both death row inmates filed lawsuits to find out what would be used to kill their clients.

Last month, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a stay on the executions until they could rule on the secrecy of drugs matter.  The following day, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin overruled the Supreme Court and allowed the executions to move forward.

The executions were scheduled for April 29th and in a rare occurrence, would take place on the same day.  However, only one would end up happening and it went terribly wrong.

Shortly after the first drug was administered, the doctor on site deemed the inmate unconscious and told them to move forward with the second and third drugs.  In short order the inmate started moving around, tried to sit up and screamed out.  As prison officials tried to figure out what was going on, they realized that his vein had burst and without knowing how much of the lethal drugs the inmate had received, decided to stop the execution.  The inmate ended up dying of a heart attack and the second execution was postponed.

In the wake of this tragedy the country has responded with renewed skepticism of the death penalty:

  • The Denver Post called this “another blow for the death penalty.”
  • The White house weighed in saying the execution was conducted “inhumanely.”
  • Colorado Governor Hickenlooper said this might make people change their opinions about capital punishment.
  • Some folks are wondering if this is the end of death penalty?

This is not the first time an execution has been botched.  In the last year, experiments with new drugs have led to inmates screaming out and convulsing on the table.  The inability to acquire drugs has also prompted some states to discuss reinstating other forms of execution such as the electric chair and firing squad.

It has also brought up the very issue of the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment.  If drugs are acquired in secret and being used without any clue as to their effectiveness, can we call the execution pain free, safe or moral, or have we crossed the line into violating the 8th amendment?  Is it not time for our nation and our state to stop and look at this unnerving amount of cruelty and decide if the whole immoral, unequal, and expensive system is worth it at all?

For more information on the Oklahoma Execution:



  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.