There is a worldwide shortage of sodium thiopental, the first drug in the three drug series most states use to put prisoners to death. It is an anesthetic, reportedly manufactured by only one company – Hospira – and has legitimate medical uses, so one hopes that during this period of scarcity execution chambers are at the bottom of the waiting list. This shortage probably accounts for the attempt by Oklahoma last night to substitute a different drug – Brevital, a form of methohexital sodium – for its scheduled execution of Jeffrey David Matthews. The sodium thiopental that the Oklahoma Corrections Department had in stock was apparently past its expiration date.
Of course, the courts did not go for this, and Matthews’ execution was stayed for two months. This is the third time Matthews’ execution has been postponed (the first two by 30-day reprieves from the Governor), and there are many compelling reasons that this stay should be made permanent. As documented here, the case against Matthews is shaky, with no physical evidence and an investigation that involved what one investigator called “suspicious” evidence. That same investigator has concluded that “there is a reasonable likelihood that Matthews is innocent.” The star witness against Matthews alleges he was coerced into cooperating by a combination of beatings and threats, and has since recanted his testimony. He now says Matthews was not involved in the crime.
Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 to deny clemency, and recently refused to reconsider. The Governor is only allowed two reprieves, so there is little more he can do, officially at least. But there has to be a way out of this mess. Oklahoma officials should use this 60 days wisely, and find a way to once and for all stop the execution of Jeffrey David Matthews.