April 29, 2014
What was supposed to be the first of two executions here on Tuesday night was halted when the prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “oh, man,” according to witnesses.
The administering doctor intervened and discovered that “the line had blown,” said the director of corrections, Robert Patton, meaning that drugs were no longer flowing into Mr. Lockett’s vein.
At 7:06 p.m., Mr. Patton said, Mr. Lockett died in the execution chamber, of a heart attack.
Mr. Patton said the governor had agreed to his request for a stay of 14 days in the second execution scheduled for Tuesday night, that of Charles F. Warner.
It was a chaotic and disastrous step in Oklahoma’s long effort to execute the two men, overcoming their objections that the state would not disclose the source of the drugs being used in a newly tried combination.
According to Mr. Patton, it was the method of administration, not the drugs themselves, that failed, but it resulted in what witnesses called an agonizing scene.
“This was botched, and it was difficult to watch,” said David Autry, one of Mr. Lockett’s lawyers.
Dean Sanderford, another lawyer for Mr. Lockett, said, “It looked like torture.”
A medical technican inserted the IV needle and then the the first drug, a sedative intended to knock the man out and forestall pain, was administered at 6:23 p.m. Ten minutes later, the doctor announced that Mr. Lockett was unconscious, and the team started to administer the next two drugs, a paralytic and one intended to make the heart stop.
At that point, witnesses said, things began to go awry. Mr. Lockett’s body twitched, his foot shook and he mumbled, witnesses said.
At 6:37 p.m., he tried to rise and exhaled loudly. At that point, prison officials pulled a curtain in front of the witnesses and the doctor discovered a “vein failure,” Mr. Patton said.
Without effective sedation, the second two drugs are known to cause agonizing suffocation and pain.
Mr. Lockett’s apparent revival and writhing raised questions about the doctor’s initial declaration that he was unconscious and are sure to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the sedative used.
Gov. Mary Fallin said late Tuesday, “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.”
Madeline Cohen, a federal public defender and lawyer for Mr. Warner, said that while prison officials asserted that the problem was only with the intravenous line, “unless we have a full and independent investigation, we’ll never know.”
“No execution should take place in Oklahoma until there has been a full investigation into Clayton Lockett’s death, including an independent autopsy and full transparency surrounding the drugs and the process of administering them,” she said.
The appeals for disclosure about the drug sources, supported by a state court in March, threw Oklahoma’s highest courts and elected officials into weeks of conflict and disarray, with courts arguing over which should consider the request for a politically unpopular stay of execution, the governor defying the State Supreme Court’s ruling for a delay, and a legislator seeking impeachment of the justices.
The planned executions of Mr. Lockett, 38, and Mr. Warner, 46, dramatized the growing tension nationally over secrecy in lethal injections as drug companies, saying they are fearful of political and even physical attack, refuse to supply drugs, and many states scramble to find new sources and try untested combinations. Several states have imposed secrecy on the suppliers of lethal injection drugs, leading to court battles over due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers for the two convicts said the lack of supplier information made it impossible to know if the drugs were safe and effective, or might possibly violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Officials swore that the drugs had been obtained legally from licensed pharmacies and had not expired. Ms. Fallin, expressing the view of many here, said earlier Tuesday, “Two men that do not contest their guilt in heinous murders will now face justice.”
But that sentiment was overshadowed by Tuesday night’s bungled execution, which is certain to generate more challenges to lethal injection, long considered the most humane of execution methods.
Mr. Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman in 1999 and burying her alive. Mr. Warner, condemned for the rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl in 1997, was to be executed two hours later.
The two men spent Tuesday in adjacent cells, visited by their lawyers and, in Mr. Warner’s case, family members. The hulking white penitentiary in this small town in southeast Oklahoma, amid prairies now green from soaking spring rains, is the prison from which Tom Joad is paroled in the opening pages of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
In keeping with the untried drug protocol announced by the Corrections Department this month, Mr. Lockett was first injected with midazolam, a benzodiazepine intended to render the prisoner unconscious. This was to be followed by injections of vecuronium bromide, a paralyzing agent that stops breathing, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
This combination has been used in Florida, but with a much higher dose of midazolam than Oklahoma used.
Faced with shortages, Oklahoma and other states have turned to compounding pharmacies — lightly regulated laboratories that mix up drugs to order. Opponents have raised questions about quality control, especially after the widely reported dying gasps of a convict in Ohio for more than 10 minutes, and an Oklahoma inmate’s utterance, “I feel my whole body burning,” after being injected with compounded drugs.
Oklahoma later said it had found a federally approved manufacturer to provide the drugs for Tuesday’s executions, but refused to identify it.
Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, derided the lawsuits over drug secrecy, calling them delaying tactics. Many legal experts, especially death penalty opponents, say otherwise.
“Information on the drug that is intended to act as the anesthetic is crucial to ensure that the execution will be humane,” said Jennifer Moreno, a lawyer with the Berkeley Law School’s Death Penalty Clinic.
Elsewhere, Texas has refused to reveal where it obtained a new batch of compounded drugs; a challenge is before the State Supreme Court. Georgia passed a law last year making information about lethal drug suppliers a “confidential state secret”; a challenge is also pending in that state’s top court.
This month, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear suits attacking drug secrecy in Missouri and Louisiana.
But three of the justices expressed interest, and the issue seems likely to be considered by the Supreme Court at some point, said Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University.
In March, it appeared that Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner had won the right to know more about the drugs when an Oklahoma judge ruled that the secrecy law was unconstitutional. But the judge said she did not have the authority to grant the men stays of execution, sending the inmates into a Kafkaesque legal maze.
The state’s Court of Criminal Appeals repeatedly turned back the Supreme Court’s order to rule on a stay, while the attorney general insisted that the executions would go ahead.
On April 21, the Supreme Court said that to avoid a miscarriage of justice, it would delay the executions until it had time to resolve the secrecy matter.
The next day, Ms. Fallin, a Republican, said the Supreme Court had overstepped its powers, and she directed officials to carry out both executions on April 29. An outraged legislator, Representative Mike Christian, said he would seek to impeach the justices, who were already under fire from conservative legislators for striking down laws the court deemed unconstitutional.
A constitutional crisis appeared to be brewing. But last Wednesday, the Supreme Court announced a decision on the secrecy issue — overturning the lower court and declaring that the executions could proceed.
Clayton Lockett was born on November 22nd, 1975 according to http://docapp065p.doc.state.ok.us/servlet/page?_pageid=394&_dad=portal30&_schema=PORTAL30&doc_num=206409&offender_book_id=98755
November 22nd, 1975
11 + 22 +1+9+7+5 = 55 = his life lesson = Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
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