Oklahoma’s law governing executions is unconstitutional because privacy provisions prevent anyone from learning about the drugs used to kill the condemned, a state judge ruled Wednesday in the latest case in the growing area of death penalty litigation.

Oklahoma’s law governing executions is unconstitutional because privacy provisions prevent anyone from learning about the drugs used to kill the condemned, a state judge ruled Wednesday in the latest case in the growing area of death penalty litigation.


Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish ruled that the state’s secrecy laws prevent the courts and inmates from getting information about the drugs that would be used in executions, thus preventing them from exercising their rights under the Constitution.


"The secrecy statute is unconstitutional because it denies both the inmate and the court access to the information," Chelsea Adkins, bailiff for Parrish, told the Los Angeles Times, describing the jurist’s ruling on the case. The ruling will likely be appealed.


Even though the ruling was made by a state judge, it could have an effect beyond Oklahoma’s borders, Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit group that tracks death penalty issues, told the Times. "A ruling like this can set a precedent on issues like this."


Parrish issued her ruling in response to a request from inmates Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, who are scheduled to be executed on April 22 and April 29, respectively. Both have requests to stay their executions pending in other courts.


Until 2010, most states used a three-drug cocktail, including an anesthetic and a paralyzing agent, to execute inmates.


But some suppliers, particularly companies in European countries that have banned the death penalty, have come under public pressure and have stopped making the medications available for carrying out executions. That has touched off problems for many states, forcing them to seek other sources for drugs needed for executions.


In January, Dennis McGuire, an inmate in Ohio, was executed but witnesses reported that he gasped while dying and appeared to be in pain, which would violate constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.