On June 14, 2004, Steven Howard Oken, a death-sentenced inmate of the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, Maryland filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Maryland Department of Correction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Oken was scheduled to ...
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On June 14, 2004, Steven Howard Oken, a death-sentenced inmate of the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, Maryland filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Maryland Department of Correction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Oken was scheduled to be put to death some day during the week of June 14-18, 2004 by lethal injection of three chemicals: Thiopental, Pancurium Bromide, and Potassium Chloride. He objected to this particular combination of chemicals because he claimed that the way the defendants administered them would cause him to consciously suffer an excrutiatingly painful and protracted death. Specifically, Oken feared that because Thiopental was only supposed to work as a sedative for a few minutes, he would suffocate to death due to the paralyzing effects of the other two drugs, all the while feeling excrutiating pain caused by the extremely painful burning sensation that potassium chloride causes as it courses through the body. Due to these concerns, Oken asked the District Court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a preliminary injunction barring the defendants from executing him in the way they intended.
On the same day that the complaint was filed, the District Court held a hearing to consider Oken's request for a stay of execution, and the next day, the court (Judge Peter J. Messitte) issued an opinion staying the execution until the court had time to further consider the case. The court noted that it was troubled by the fact that the plaintiff had never been provided with a complete copy of the defendants' newly developed execution protocol, and that the information they had provided to him had been provided at the last minute, leaving him little time to examine it with his attorneys. Oken v. Sizer, 321 F.Supp.2d 658 (D.Md. 2004).
The defendants appealed the District Court's decision to stay the execution, and on June 16, 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit refused to overturn the District Court's decision. The defendants requested review by the U.S. Supreme Court, and on the same day, the Supreme Court vacated the stay of execution without writing an opinion as to why. Oken v. Sizer, 542 U.S. 916 (2004).
On June 17, 2004, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint in the District Court, arguing that the cut-down procedure that the defendants were likely to use during his execution would violate his rights under the Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. He argued that they were likely to need to use a cut-down procedure because his long history of drug use would otherwise make it very difficult to obtain access to his veins during the lethal injection procedure. On the same day, the District Court (Judge Messitte) issued a final order of judgment denying the relief sought under the amended complaint, denying the motion to stay, and dismissing the case. The court reasoned that the plaintiff had not established that any of the execution procedures amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his civil rights.
Oken appealed the District Court's dismissal of the case, and on the same day, the Fourth Circuit denied his motion for temporary injunction and affirmed the District Court's dismissal of the case. He filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, and on the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition and declined to stay his execution.
Steven Oken was executed on June 17, 2004 by lethal injection.Kristen Sagar - 09/05/2007