After many delays and legal challenges, Oklahoma finally got its chance to execute death row inmate Clayton Lockett last night—and botched the execution so badly that officials closed the curtain to block the view from the spectators gallery. Lockett writhed for long minutes after receiving the drug injections until he succumbed to a heart attack 43 minutes later.
The execution went so badly—reporters who witnessed it said it was by far the worst since Oklahoma resumed executions 24 years ago—that Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin stayed for 14 days the execution of inmate Charles Frederick Warner that was also scheduled for Tuesday night.
“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. “I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed.”
In response to the horrific scene, Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said, “In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world.”
The state used its new three-drug protocol that has been the subject of intense legal challenges in Oklahoma courts. States have had to come up with new and creative ways to kill people after the traditional pharmaceutical companies started refusing to supply them with lethal drugs to be used for executions.
Ten minutes after administration the first drug, midazolam, brought Lockett to unconsciousness, which is the drug’s purpose. Three minutes later, he began breathing heavily, thrashing and straining to lift his head, according to media witnesses. Lockett reportedly said the word “man” from the gurney.
Officials then decided to lower the blinds to prevent viewers from seeing inside the death chamber. Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton told reporters Lockett’s vein line had “blown.”
Asked what that meant, Patton said the vein had “exploded.”
“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 said in a news conference. “After conferring with the warden, and unknown how much drugs went into him, it was my decision at that time to stop the execution.”
After the first drug, the new protocol calls for the second drug to paralyze the inmate and the third drug, potassium chloride, to stop the heart. According to Patton, the second and third drugs were being administered when a problem was noticed. It’s not clear how much of the drugs made it into Lockett’s system.
Though the execution was stopped, 43 minutes after the first injection Lockett suffered a heart attack and died.
A gruesome recount of the slow and harrowing death by Tulsa World enterprise editor Ziva Branstetter, one of 12 media witnesses, described Lockett nine minutes after the injection as “grimacing, grunting and lifting his head and shoulders entirely up from the gurney…The blinds are lowered and we can’t see what is happening. Reporters exchange shocked glances. Nothing like this has happened at an execution any of us has witnessed since 1990, when the state resumed executions using lethal injection.”
Lockett’s attorney David Autry questioned the amount of the sedative, midazolam, that was injected, saying he thought the 100 milligrams called for in the Oklahoma’s execution protocol was “an overdose quantity.”
Autry also said he was skeptical of the department’s determination that Lockett’s vein had failed.
“I’m not a medical professional, but Mr. Lockett was not someone who had compromised veins,” Autry told reporters. “He was in very good shape. He had large arms and very prominent veins.”
It was the first time Oklahoma had administered midazolam as the first drug in its execution protocol.
Last week, just hours before Lockett was scheduled to die, the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the execution on the grounds that the state hadn’t satisfactorily answered questions about the constitutionality of the secrecy surrounding the drugs it uses for lethal injections.
While an Oklahoma county district court judge ruled that keeping the source of the drugs confidential is a violation of their rights, the state says keeping the drugs secret allows it to protect suppliers who might be in danger if their identities were made public.
Lockett, 38, was convicted of rape and the murder of a 19-year-old woman in 1999, while Warner, 46, was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old baby in 1997.
Louisiana and Ohio this year have seen executions delayed because of concerns about the untraditional drug supplies. After an inmate was executed in Ohio in January and, according to witnesses, took an unusually long time to die and appeared to be in pain, the inmate’s family filed a lawsuit against the state.