Autopsy: Clayton Lockett Died From Execution Drugs, Not Heart Attack

Clayton Lockett

Clayton Lockett

The controversial death of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett that spurred a wave of nationwide handwringing about the way executions are administered came as a result of the lethal drug cocktail he was administered, not by a heart attack as was originally reported, according to an autopsy conducted by the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences at Dallas.

Lockett’s April 29 execution was controversial because the 38-year-old inmate writhed, moaned and clenched his teeth before he was pronounced dead about 43 minutes after his execution began.

While Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton originally concluded that Lockett died of a heart attack, the Southwestern Institute had a different analysis. According to its report released Thursday, the institute said Lockett’s death was determined to be a “judicial execution by lethal injection.” The autopsy determined all three execution drugs eventually made it into his system after medical technicians poked him at least a dozen times as they tried to find a vein before settling on using one in his groin.

The autopsy was requested by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

Lockett’s execution went so badly — reporters who witnessed it said it was by far the worst since Oklahoma resumed executions 24 years ago — that Fallin stayed for 14 days the execution of inmate Charles Frederick Warner.

“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 at the time. “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. 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 Oklahoma’s botched execution, a Utah state representative suggested his state use the firing squad for executions.

“It sounds like the Wild West, but it’s probably the most humane way to kill somebody,” said Rep. Paul Ray, a Republican from the northern Utah city of Clearfield, who plans to introduce his proposal during Utah’s next legislative session in January, according to The Associated Press.

The methods used to kill have been under a microscope across the nation after Lockett’s botched execution. Even the White House said the killing “fell short” of humane standards.

What the autopsy didn’t answer is why it took so long for Lockett to die.

Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix, who represents a group of Oklahoma death row prisoners who commissioned an independent autopsy of Lockett, told Al Jazeera America more information is needed.

“What this initial autopsy report does not appear to answer is what went wrong during Mr. Lockett’s execution, which took over 45 minutes, with witnesses reporting he writhed and gasped in pain, ” Baich said in a statement.

Lockett was convicted of the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in 1999.


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