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Botched Procedure Kills Death Row Inmate

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    OKLAHOMA - On Tuesday night, just after 8 P.M., a series of chilling tweets from an Associated Press reporter in Oklahoma City, Bailey Elise McBride, began to circulate widely. Before joining the AP, McBride was a high-school teacher. She writes a blog called PBR & Pearls, on which she logs inspirations and interests; most recently, a “mild obsession” with the band Tiny Ruins. At work, her subject matter tends to be darker. In addition to covering a mysterious case of dead birds dropping from the sky and the financial complications prompted by a bridge closure, McBride was one of the reporters following Oklahoma’s plans to execute two death-row inmates, on the same night, by lethal injection.

    Both executions, of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, were to be carried out by midnight, and, as the Fordham law professor and death-penalty expert Deborah Denno told the Los Angeles Times, “The world was watching.”

    Oklahoma had run out of lethal-injection drugs for the same reason that other death-penalty states have also run out of them. As Jeffrey Toobin described in a Comment, the sole American manufacturer of sodium thiopental, a key ingredient in lethal injections, stopped making the drug in 2011. Death-penalty states turned to European manufacturers, but it became impossible to import the drugs to the United States, owing to the European Union’s commitment to wipe out capital punishment worldwide. Left with dwindling supplies, states shifted their execution protocols toward the improvisational, recombining drugs and seeking the services of compounding pharmacies, which are loosely regulated by the federal government.

    Where are states getting these chemicals? And how are they tinkering with them? These are excellent questions, but new secrecy laws allow certain states, Oklahoma among them, to remain completely silent on the matter. Constitutional challenges based on Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment have failed. Lethal injection—supposedly ethically superior to hanging, gas, electrocution, and firing squad—has been employed with untested and controversial drug combinations that are bought, with legally protected secrecy, from companies that want anonymity. Texas is refusing to reveal the source of its newest compounded drugs; Georgia considers the names of its suppliers a “state secret.” Secrecy laws involving lethal injection have been attacked, unsuccessfully, in Missouri and Louisiana.

    Executions, meanwhile, have continued, some of them with horrific results. In January, the Oklahoma inmate Michael Lee Wilson said, during his execution, “I feel my whole body burning.” An inmate in Ohio spent ten minutes “struggling and gasping loudly for air,” NPR reported, and made “snorting and choking sounds.” It took nearly thirty minutes for him to die.

    For the execution of Clayton Lockett, Oklahoma used, for the first time, the midazolam (a sedative) in combination with vecuronium bromide (which paralyzes the respiratory system) and potassium chloride (which stops the heart). The drugs are delivered intravenously, in that order. The suffocating pain caused by the second and third drugs would be agonizing without the sedative effects of the first.

    Oklahoma’s secrecy laws make it impossible to know anything beyond the names of the ingredients injected into the condemned prisoner. The state has declined to provide the public with reasons for selecting a particular drug cocktail, or with any details about the drugs themselves, or about the supplier. The state reportedly buys the drugs with petty cash, to make the purchases more difficult to track and, therefore, harder to legally challenge.

    What is known, though, is that, ten minutes into Lockett’s execution, a prison official told a doctor, “Go ahead and check to see if he’s unconscious.”

    After checking, the doctor said, “Mr. Lockett is not unconscious.”

    “I’m not,” Lockett said.

    Courtney Francisco, a reporter for KFOR-TV, in Oklahoma City, was one of the witnesses at the execution. She told the BBC that Lockett, strapped to the gurney, was moving his arms and legs and mumbling, “as if he was trying to talk.”

    McBride’s tweets told the rest of the story:

    “He was conscious and blinking, licking his lips even after the process began. He then began to seize.”

    “At 6:33 the doctor said Lockett was unconscious and then at 6:34 Lockett began to nod, mumble move body.”

    (Witnesses reported that Lockett seemed to try to sit up. At one point he said, “Man.” Observers heard a prison official say, “Something’s wrong,” and then the blinds on the observation window were closed, and the witnesses were led out.)

    “Checking to see the status of Lockett and whether he is alive or dead or in transport to the hospital.”

    “Sedated 7 minutes into execution, at that time began pushing 2nd and 3rd drugs. Some concern drugs were not having an effect.”

    “7:06 inmate Clayton Lockett suffered heart attack and died.”

    “Prison Director has stayed execution for (the second inmate) Charles Warner for 14 days.”

    “Lockett’s vein blew during the execution preventing the chemicals from effectively entering his body.”

    One of Lockett’s lawyers, a witness, later told reporters, “It looked like torture.”

    Lockett was executed for a crime he committed in 1999: he shot a nineteen-year-old girl named Stephanie Neiman with a sawed-off shotgun, and then he watched as a pair of accomplices buried her alive. Charles Warner, the inmate who was to be executed after Lockett, was convicted of raping and killing an eleven-month-old girl in 1997. “This is not about whether these two men are guilty; that is not in dispute,” Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oklahoma office, said in a statement. “Rather, it comes down to whether we trust the government enough to allow it to kill its citizens, even guilty ones, in a secret process.”

    After defense lawyers argued for disclosure about the drugs, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed to a temporary stay, but the state legislature threatened to bring impeachment proceedings against the justices, and Mary Fallin, the Oklahoma governor, threatened to fight the delay; the execution went forward as planned.

    Fallin spent today addressing the fallout, which included a statement from the White House saying the execution had “fallen short of humane standards.” Fallin stayed Warner’s execution for fourteen days and has ordered a full review of execution procedures, “to determine what happened and why.”

    McBride, meanwhile, has fielded media calls from around the world—her tweets from the prison were retweeted or favorited more than two thousand times. Before signing off for the night, she made it clear that she had not been tweeting about the execution as it happened—she reported the events after the fact, according to the AP, based on information from prison authorities and from her colleague Sean Murphy, who was one of the witnesses. “Live-tweeting an execution seems unnecessary and kind of sick to me,” McBride told her readers, just before 10 P.M. “After what happened, I felt like it was important for people to know.”

    The New Yorker, 4/30/14


    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. A_Grant
    That was one sad episode...

    They used only 100 mg of midazolam, which is roughly equivalent to 125 mg diazepam, to knock him out. I don't know about you, but I don't think that would be enough to knock me out under the kind of stress/pressure he was under.

    I have no sympathy for rapist, killers and certainly not pedophiles, but there is a certain line that should not be crossed by advanced civilizations.

    You can be for or against capital punishment, but how can you accept to trust a governement that carries out this kind of sad joke? I am not american, but if I were, I would be ashamed, for the credibility of the whole justice system is affected.

    Being a chemist, I totally agree with the embargo the europeans autorities have put on sodium thiopental exportations. The ONLY use of that drug, in the states, was to carry out capital punishment.

    Again, this is a very sad and ugly joke...
  2. Beenthere2Hippie
    I couldn't agree with you more, Grant, on all aspects. This guy--regardless of his crimes--deserved to be treated humanely, how ever it is that this society determines that to be. No matter what the debate about the death penalty, no one should be put through torture and guess work in their last few moments on earth.

    We have enough knowledge on how to kills someone "almost" painlessly nowadays that to resort to a sloppy mixture of drugs that have not been properly tested under all conditions is not only sad but criminal on our part. I mean, let's face it: death by hanging or beheading are more humane than playing with a hodge-podge of unknown and untested chemical mixes. Just put me in front of a firing squad full of ace shots, for God's sake. It would be a better thing, if we're going to keep putting convicted people to death.
  3. Phenoxide
    I don't understand why states with capital punishment are so reliant on industrial suppliers. Why don't they just band together and set up a small state-funded facility that can produce sodium thiopental and anything else required to get the job done quickly and cleanly? The cost of this would be tiny compared with the general running costs of death row.
  4. Hatter
    I head about this story on the radio, during my drive to work this morning. I couldn't help but laugh a bit. Not because it was cruel and unusual, but rather how moronic our "justice" system is that they managed to muck up a lethal injection procedure. I agree with you here Phenoxide; they should have a there own state funded facility to both synthesize and formulate proper preparations for lethal injection.

    The problem is the state doesn't have the money to set up such a facility, start up costs and regulatory costs would likely be outrageous, particularly for NaThiopental it wouldn't be cost effective or justifiable. Reason being that it has been off-patent for so long that a lot of companies that made it in the past had to stop manufacturing it because it wasn't profitable; so its really hard to justify spending the money to start up a facility to produce something that is dirt cheap. There would be no profit just an incredible amount of tax dollars lost/wasted on euthanizing the slime of our nation.

    However I could totally support them setting up a small formulations and analytics lab. Importing cheap raw materials running proper analytical procedures on said raw materials, then formulating for an effective "treatment." This could be run by just a few people efficiently, and if any problems with quality were encountered they would likely have the means to cheaply "clean" it up, or just get new feedstock.

    I remember a while back when the FDA barred importation and use etc of NaThiopental because it wasn't yet approved. You know, we don't want to euthanize people with something that MAY give them an infection... ;)

    As a side note; I think they should just gas them with nitrous oxide, they'll get nice and high and giggly, then pass out and subsequently die from the lack of oxygen. Not to mention its cheap. Just my opinion though...
  5. Beenthere2Hippie
  6. Rob Cypher
    Clayton Lockett, the death-row inmate who was the subject of a botched execution by the state of Oklahoma, was Tasered by prison staff and had cut his own arm on the day of the failed procedure, according to a timeline released by the state's corrections chief on Thursday.

    The document released by the director of the corrections department, Robert Patton, shows that medical staff could not find a suitable vein on any of his limbs in which to inject the lethal drugs intended to kill him, and had to use his groin instead.

    Patton recommended an indefinite stay of executions in Oklahoma until procedures for judicial killings in the state are completely rewritten and staff retrained. The execution of another inmate, Charles Warner, also due to have been carried out on Tuesday, has already been postponed.

    “It will take several days or possibly weeks to refine the new protocols,” Patton wrote in a letter to the Republican governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin. “Once written, staff will require extensive training and understanding of new protocols before an execution can be scheduled. I recommend asking the court of criminal appeals to issue an indefinite stay of execution.” Patton said he supported an “external investigation” of Lockett's death.

    Fallin said on Thursday that she had the authority to grant a 60-day moratorium before the attorney general would petition the appeals court for an extension. "We need to take as long as possible to get the answer right," she told reporters.

    Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, said the state "will not proceed with any executions until Department of Corrections protocols can be reviewed and updated, and staff then trained to implement those new protocols."

    The timeline published by Oklahoma details a chaotic scene in the death chamber before and during the failed execution, as staff struggle to place an intravenous line into Lockett, report that he was unconscious, but then did not spot that the IV connection had failed because they had covered Lockett groin with a sheet, to prevent that area of his body from being seen by witnesses.

    The document is notable as much for what it leaves out as for what it reveals: there is no mention of the three minutes in which witnesses saw Lockett thrashing violently on the gurney and attempting to speak, despite having been declared unconscious. Neither does it say anything about what happened in the ten minutes between the procedure being called off and the moment Lockett died, apparently from a heart attack, 43 minutes after his attempted execution began.

    Lawyers, state officials and journalists from media groups including the Guardian witnessed the first 16 minutes of the attempted execution before officials drew the blinds that separated the viewing room from the death chamber. For the final three visible minutes, Lockett writhed, groaned, attempted to lift himself off the gurney and tried to speak, despite a doctor having declared him unconscious.

    Lockett was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to death for the kidnap and murder of a 19-year-old, Stephanie Neiman, during a home invasion the previous year. She survived the initial assault, and Lockett ordered two accomplices to bury her alive. He also raped one of her friends. His accomplices are serving life sentences.

    Neiman had graduated from high school only two weeks before her death. Her parents, Steve and Susie Neiman, supported Lockett's sentence. After his death on Tuesday, the Neimans issued a statement, saying: “We are thankful this day has finally arrived and justice will finally be served.”

    The timeline released by Patton shows that just after 5am on Tuesday, Lockett had refused to be restrained when officers arrived to take him for X-rays. A correctional emergency response team (Cert) was called to use force on him, and he was Tasered at 5.50am. Three minutes later he was found to have a self-inflicted cut on his arm. At 8.15am, the wound was determined not to be serious enough to require sutures.

    Oklahoma's timeline also goes into detail about what happened before and during the attempted execution. At 5.22pm, Lockett was restrained on the execution table, but a suitable vein could not be found anywhere on his body in which to insert an intravenous line. Veins on his legs and arms were rejected before a doctor examined his neck, and then finally his groin.

    The timeline reveals that the insertion point was covered by a sheet “to prevent witness viewing of the groin area”. The execution began at 6.23pm with the injection of the first of a cocktail of three drugs, but the intravenous line – covered by the sheet – was only checked after 6.44pm, when the blinds between the execution chamber and the viewing room were lowered.

    The report says: “The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both. The warden immediately contacted the director by phone and reported the information to the director.”

    According to the timeline, Patton asked if enough drugs had been administered to cause death, to which the doctor replied “no”. The director then asked if another vein was available to complete the execution, and if so, were there enough drugs left. The doctor answered no to both questions, the timeline reveals.

    The doctor reported a “faint heartbeat”, and at 6.56pm, Patton called off the execution. The timeline does not detail what happened between then and 7.06pm, when Lockett was declared dead.

    At an open meeting of the board of corrections on Thursday, Patton refused to answer a question from the Guardian about whether any attempts were made to revive Lockett, and walked out of the room.

    Fallin was asked later whether she believed that what happened to Lockett was constitutional. “That will be answered by the courts and by those that are in authority,” the governor said, adding that she did not know if any attempts had been made to resuscitate Lockett after the execution was called off.

    Attorneys for Lockett and Warner had challenged Oklahoma's secrecy about the source of death penalty drugs, which is permitted under a state law enacted in 2011. The state used a cocktail of drugs in Tuesday's procedure in dosages that were untested in American executions. But the timeline appears to indicate that problems with the execution could be attributed to the failure even to inject the drugs properly.

    Madeline Cohen, a lawyer for Warner, the second of the two inmates due to have been put to death on Tuesday, agreed with Patton's conclusion that an indefinite suspension of executions was necessary.

    “As the Oklahoma department of corrections dribbles out piecemeal information about Clayton Lockett's botched execution, they have revealed that Mr Lockett was killed using an invasive and painful method – an IV line in his groin,” she said. “Placing such a femoral IV line requires highly specialised medical training and expertise.

    “Furthermore, the timeline the department of corrections has released strongly indicates that the femoral IV was never properly inserted, and the drugs were injected into Mr Lockett's flesh, rather than his veins,” she said.

    Specialists expressed particular alarm that the final minutes of the attempted execution were obscured from public view. “It’s abysmal that they had the gall to close the curtains at a time when transparency was essential,” said one expert familiar with drugs used in Oklahoma’s botched execution of Lockett, who declined to be named. “That’s when witnesses were most needed to report back what happened to the rest of the country.”

    The expert said that it should have been possible to save Lockett’s life once the execution had been called off and even after the drugs had been administered. Medics could have very likely saved Lockett by deploying a breathing tube, placing him on a ventilator, and applying tourniquets to his arms to prevent the drugs reaching his heart, the specialist said.

    Cohen expressed concern about the failure by the timeline released on Thursday to account for what happened in the ten minutes between the suspension of Lockett's execution and his death. “We need so many answers,” she said

    On Wednesday, Fallin directed the Oklahoma department of public safety to review what happened to Lockett. Lockett's body was moved overnight to the Southwestern Institute for Forensic Science in Dallas, which will carry out a postmortem examination.

    Lockett's attorneys expressed doubt that the review would be independent. The commissioner of the department of public safety, Michael Thompson, is a Fallin appointee and was in the execution viewing room on Tuesday night. Fallin “did not assign this duty to a neutral, third party with independent interests”, said Dean Sanderford, an attorney for Lockett.

    “Instead, she has charged the commissioner of the department of public safety with the job. The DPS is a state agency, and its commissioner reports to the governor. As such, the review proposed by governor Fallin would not be conducted by a neutral, independent entity. In order to understand exactly what went wrong in [Tuesday’s] horrific execution, and restore any confidence in the execution process, the death of Clayton Lockett must be investigated by a truly independent organisation, not a state employee or agency.”

    Katie Fretland & Ed Pilkington
    The Guardian
    May 1, 2014

  7. ZenobiaSky
    Future Of Nebraska Death Penalty In Doubt​

    The bungled execution of an inmate in Oklahoma is casting new attention on the death penalty in Nebraska, where capital punishment remains on the books even though no one has been executed in nearly two decades.

    Nebraska's supply of sodium thiopental, a key lethal injection drug, expired in December, leaving the state with no way to carry out executions.

    Some lawmakers believe Nebraska will never again execute an inmate because of the drug issues and expensive legal appeals. The last Nebraska inmate executed was Robert Williams in 1997.

    Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha supports the death penalty, but says the state should stop the expensive process if it can't execute anyone. A Department of Correctional Services spokeswoman declined to say whether state officials plan to change their lethal injection protocol.

    Posted: Sun 10:29 AM, May 04, 2014
    By: The Associated Press
  8. ZenobiaSky
    I couldn't help but post the above article, because this is how screwed up the state I live in is. What they fail to mention is that prior to 2010 Nebraska's only means of execution was the electric chair, The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled this cruel and unusual punishment in 2008.

    It took them two years to decide on the current three-drug protocol for lethal injection. In the mean time, they still tried death penalty cases. Right now there is a death penalty case on trial in Omaha.

    It boggles me first of all, that it took a botched execution for them to realize that "oh oops the drug we use is expired", I mean really!!!!! Second, how can they keep sentencing more people to death when they have no method of execution, costing the state millions of dollars a year.

    I am pro death penalty, but, I think it's cruel and unusual to put someone on death row for 20 years anticipating when they are gonna be the "next" up. My opinion changed in 2002 to this way of thinking, from "kill the bastards they deserve it", when I met a death row inmate who was a patient in the hospital I worked at.

    Here was a death row inmate to receive a quadruple bypass.. my first thought was "Really? lifesaving Heart Surgery the taxpayers pay for on a death row inmate?". Then I met him, he told me about his crime, I got to know him. The man I met, wasn't a murderer, and when I thought about it, after 20 years, everyone is different, I know I am. He later died on death row in 2006 of a stroke.

    Nebraska currently has 11 people on death row, the oldest of those crimes is from 1979.
  9. TheBigBadWolf
    I have often enough shared my view on capital punishment on here.

    What is happening here is only a further act in the tragedy that people find the need to kill other people.

    If they are so 'eye for an eye' then fucking kill the murderers the way they have killed their victims.

    If they can find anybody who is not pussying out from such a piece of work. Everything else is only a further example for the hypocrisy present in so-called christian western societies.

    A simple piece of rope was good enough for the forefathers - why does a 21st century murderer deserve something 'better' - like a fucked up injection that doesnt work?

    When I think any further I need to puke...

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