Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Oklahoma: Clayton Lockett Execution Goes Horribly Wrong

Clayton Lockett

Condemned killer writhes, convulses on gurney after being injected with untested drug cocktail; execution stopped after 16 agonizing minutes. Inmate later dies of heart attack; second scheduled execution called off.

An Oklahoma death row inmate died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes after his execution was halted because the untested drugs injected into him apparently caused him to writhe, convulse and struggle violently while strapped into the death chamber gurney on Tuesday evening, the AP reports.

Clayton Lockett, a 38-year-old convicted murderer and rapist, was injected with an untested three-drug cocktail at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester at 6:23pm. While Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials confirmed that all three drugs were administered, they did not have the desired effect.

Sixteen minutes into the procedure, the witnesses gathered to view the killing began to realize something had gone horribly wrong. Officials then closed the curtains to the death chamber after Lockett convulsed several times, his head and chest rising repeatedly.

According to The Oklahoman:

Lockett grimaced and tensed his body several times over a three-minute period before the execution was shielded from the press. After being declared unconscious 10 minutes into the process, Lockett spoke at three separate moments. The first two were inaudible, however the third time he spoke, Lockett said the word ‘man.’

KJRH reporter Max Resnick, who was present at the execution, tweeted that Lockett “sat up and said ‘something’s wrong'” at 6:37pm, two minutes before the curtain was closed.

“It was a horrible thing to witness,” said David Autry, Lockett’s attorney. “This was totally botched.”

Twenty minutes after the curtains had been drawn to conceal the botched execution from witnesses, and 36 minutes after the state-sanctioned killing began, Corrections Department Director Robert Patton informed witnesses that the execution had been cancelled.

“It’s come to my attention, I’m stopping the execution,” Patton told witnesses. “We’ve had a vein failure, in which the chemicals did not make it into the offender.”

Lockett was pronounced dead in the execution chamber at 7:06pm of an apparent heart attack.

Following the botched execution, the killing of Charles Warner, which had been scheduled for 8:00pm, was postponed for 14 days by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. Warner was sentenced to death for the 1997 rape and murder of 11-month-old Adriana Waller. It was to be the first double execution in the state since 1937.

The Guardian reports Gov. Fallin, a Republican, has ordered an investigation into the botched killing.

“I have asked the department of corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett,” Fallin said in a statement. “I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed.”

The chemicals injected into Lockett were, in order, the sedative midazolam, an unnamed paralytic, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Patton said the executioners noticed a problem sometime when the second and third drugs were being injected into Lockett.

“There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having that (desired) effect, and the doctor observed the line at that time and determined the line had blown,” Patton later said at a news conference.

Autry, Lockett’s lawyer, told reporters that his client had big arms and normal veins.

“I’m not a medical professional, but Mr. Lockett was not someone who had compromised veins,” Autry said. “He was in very good shape. He had large arms and very prominent veins.”

Lockett and Warner had sued Oklahoma for refusing to disclose details about the drugs to be used to kill them, including where the drugs were made. Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court voted 5-4 to issue a rare stay of execution for the condemned pair. The decision caused great public outcry in a state where as many as 90 percent of residents support capital punishment. The Republican-controlled legislature even launched an effort to impeach the justices who voted for the stays, and the high court subsequently dissolved its own stay last Wednesday.

The botched execution is likely to increase debate in the US over whether executions by lethal injection violate the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” The United States is the only Western nation which practices capital punishment, and 18 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. Since 2000, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York have banned capital punishment.

Oklahoma executes more people than any other state but Texas, which has nearly seven times as many residents. On a per capita basis, Oklahoma leads the nation in executions.

As drug companies, many of them based in Europe, where there is no death penalty, have stopped selling execution chemicals to American prisons, states have scrambled to find alternative sources of the necessary drugs. To protect the identities of companies providing the deadly drugs, states including Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas have gone to court to even as they execute inmates using the new cocktails.

Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman with a shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999.

“God blessed us with our precious daughter, Stephanie for 19 years,” the slain woman’s parents said in a statement released on Tuesday. “Stephanie loved children. She worked in Vacation Bible School and always helped with our church nativity scenes. She was the joy of our life. We are thankful this day has finally arrived and justice will finally be served.”

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