Questions About Death Penalty in America Raised By Botched Execution in Oklahoma


Clayton Derrell Lockett died of a heart attack after a botched execution in Oklahoma yesterday, renewing questions about the use of secret and untried drug protocols to carry out the death penalty.

The execution officially began at 6:23 p.m. with the administration of a sedative. Ten minutes later, a doctor announced that Mr. Lockett was unconscious. Officials began to administer the next two drugs, a paralytic and a drug that stops the heart, both of which are known to cause agonizing suffocation and pain. A reporter for The Oklahoman was present at the execution and reported that Mr. 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.'” A prison official said, “Something’s wrong.”

At 6:37, he tried to rise and exhaled loudly. Prison officials pulled a curtain to block witnesses’ view and a doctor discovered a “vein failure.” About 20 minutes after the blinds were closed, Corrections Department Director Robert Patton told the press in the execution chamber, “It’s come to my attention, I’m stopping the execution. We’ve had a vein failure, in which the chemicals did not make it into the offender.” Patton later announced that Mr. Lockett suffered a heart attack at 7:06 p.m. and was declared dead.

Patton also announced that the governor had agreed to his request for a 14-day stay of the execution of Charles Warner, which had been scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. last night.

Both Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner had sued to obtain information about the lethal injection drugs so that the safety and effectiveness of the drugs could be verified. Oklahoma is one of several states that have obtained drugs from unregulated compounding pharmacies and passed laws to keep the source of lethal injection drugs secret.

Last month, an Oklahoma court ruled that the state’s secrecy law was unconstitutional, but the Attorney General pressed for the executions to go forward. On April 21, the state supreme court stayed the executions until the secrecy issue could be heard. The next day, the governor said the court had overstepped its powers and ordered officials to execute both men on April 29 and a legislator called for justices to be impeached. The court unanimously ruled the following day to overturn the lower court and allow the executions to proceed.

“After weeks of Oklahoma refusing to disclose basic information about the drugs for tonight’s lethal injection procedures, tonight, Clayton Lockett was tortured to death,” said Mr. Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen. “Until much more is known about tonight’s failed experiment of an execution, no execution can be permitted in Oklahoma.”