James Coddington, Oklahoma Inmate Who Chose Death By Firing Squad, Gets Stay of Execution

A federal judge granted a stay of execution to James Coddington, reinstating him as a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection process.

The lawsuit claims the state's injection protocol violates the Eighth Amendment, which protects against "cruel and unusual punishment." The case will proceed to trial in February.

While Coddington was originally one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, he was removed because he had not selected an alternate execution method. Once Coddington's attorneys showed U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot that Coddington had chosen a firing squad as his alternate method, Friot reinstated him.

Now that Coddington is reinstated, the execution will be stayed until his part in the lawsuit is resolved. The Oklahoman reported that Friot said the federal court has until March 10—Coddington's original execution date—to make a decision regarding the inmate's claims in the lawsuit.

Coddington received the death penalty for bludgeoning his coworker Alan Hale to death with a hammer in March 1997. According to prosecutors, Coddington killed Hale after he refused to give Coddington $50 for drugs.

The three drugs used in Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol are midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. After the state announced last year it would resume executions using these drugs, 32 death row inmates sued, claiming the drugs would cause an unconstitutional level of pain.

James Coddington, Oklahoma, death row
A federal judge granted a temporary stay of execution for James Coddington, a death row inmate in Oklahoma who was scheduled to receive a lethal injection in March. Above, this Feb. 5 photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Coddington. Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP

Firing squad is one of several authorized execution methods under Oklahoma law, along with lethal injection, electrocution and nitrogen hypoxia. Lethal injection has been the only method used in Oklahoma since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.

Coddington's public defender declined to comment on the judge's order, and a spokeswoman for Attorney General John O'Connor didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

States and the federal government carried out 11 executions this year, the fewest since 1988, as support for the death penalty has continued to decline, according to an annual report on the death penalty released earlier this month. Texas executed three inmates and Oklahoma two in 2021. Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri each executed one, and the Trump administration executed three.

Oklahoma once had one of the nation's busiest death chambers, but a temporary moratorium on capital punishment was put in place in 2015 following three consecutive flawed executions.

Oklahoma resumed executions in October with the lethal injection of John Marion Grant, who convulsed and vomited on the gurney after the first drug, the sedative midazolam, was administered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Utah execution
An Oklahoma inmate chose the firing squad as an alternative method of execution, which places him back on the plaintiff list and stays his execution until his part of the trial is over. Above, the execution chamber at the Utah State Prison is seen after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by a firing squad in Draper June 18, 2010. Trent Nelson/Salt Lake Tribune