A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol is constitutional, clearing the way for the state to execute the 28 death row inmates who challenged it, Newsweek reports. Oklahoma's protocol involves administering the sedative midazolam, followed by the paralytic vecuronium bromide, and then the heart-stopping potassium chloride. Attorneys for the inmates argued that midazolam is not able to render an inmate unable to feel pain and creates the risk of severe pain and suffering that violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. After hearing conflicting expert testimony about the effectiveness of midazolam during a week-long federal trial this year, Judge Stephen Friot's ruling on Monday said the drug can be relied upon for executions.
"The evidence persuades the court, and not by a small margin, that even though midazolam is not the drug of choice for maintaining prolonged deep anesthesia, it can be relied upon, as used in the Oklahoma execution protocol, to render the inmate insensate to pain for the few minutes required to complete the execution," he wrote. The U.S. Supreme Court requires inmates to show that an execution method "is sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering," the judge noted. "The plaintiff inmates have fallen well short of clearing the bar set by the Supreme Court."