By Rachel Petersen
Oklahoma State Penitentiary death row inmate John David Duty, 58, is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 16. Duty’s latest appeal, which was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 4, argued that the state’s execution protocol is unconstitutional due to plans to substitute one of the three drugs used in the lethal injection execution process.
“Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections ran out of sodium thiopental, a key component in the three-drug cocktail that causes unconsciousness,” according to the Associated Press. The department then decided to use pentobarbital instead, a similar drug and powerful sedative that is commonly used to euthanize animals.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot denied Duty’s appeal, which argued that using the substitute drug would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.” Friot said that attorneys failed to prove that pentobarbital posed a “substantial risk of serious harm.” The two anesthesiologists who testified at the hearing agreed that a sufficient dose would render an individual unconscious and ultimately lead to death.
Duty was sentenced to death for the Dec. 19, 2001 murder of Curtis Wise, Duty’s 22-year-old OSP cellmate. At the time of the murder, Duty was serving three life sentences for his 1978 convictions of rape, robbery and shooting with intent to kill.
In a 2002 letter submitted into court records, Duty wrote: “I talked my cellpartner Curtis Wise into letting me tie him up as a hostage so I could be moved from Disciplinary Unit to Administrative Segregation. I then strangled him to death. When I convinced Curtis Wise to let me tie him up it was with the intention of killing him. If it hadn’t been him it would have been somebody else.”
District Attorney Jim Bob Miller, in a report filed with the Pittsburg County Court in August 2002, stated that the murder of Curtis Wise was “especially heinous” because Duty talked his cellmate into acting like he was the defendant’s hostage “by having Curtis Wise lay on his stomach on the cell floor, by tying the hands and feet of Curtis Wise behind his back, by strangling him with a shoe string until he was dead, and then by writing a letter to the mother of Curtis Wise bragging about how Curtis Wise struggled for his life throughout the conscious torture.” In this letter to Mary Wise, mother of Curtis Wise, Duty wrote: “Well I tied him up hands and feet, then I strangled him. It’s not like the movies, it took awhile.”
Duty also, subsequent to the murder of Curtis Wise, “threatened to kill prison staff at the Department of Corrections both in writing and orally,” Miller reported. In a letter to Pittsburg County Assistant District Attorney, Richard Hall, Duty wrote: “You can’t say I don’t deserve the death penalty. I’ve killed another inmate, taken hostages 3 times, and assaulted a guard. Plus other various things to numerous to mention.”
During the 2002 court proceedings, Duty pleaded guilty to the murder, waived the presentation of mitigating evidence during his sentencing and said he wanted the death sentence.
For more on this story, see Sunday's print edition of the McAlester News-Capital.
Contact Rachel Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.