The Slow And Agonizing Death Of Clayton Lockett

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Katie Fretland passes along the above chart:

After the failure of a 20-minute attempt to execute him, Clayton Lockett was left to die of a heart attack in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma state penitentiary in McAlester. A lawyer said Lockett had effectively been “tortured to death”. For three minutes after the first drugs were delivered Lockett struggled violently, groaned and writhed, lifting his shoulders and head from the gurney. Some 16 minutes after the execution began, and without Lockett being declared dead, the blinds separating the chamber from the viewing room were closed. The process was called off shortly afterwards. Lockett died 43 minutes after the first executions drugs were adminsitered.

Tulsa World offers a minute-by-minute account:

6:37 p.m. The inmate’s body starts writhing and bucking and it looks like he’s trying to get up. Both arms are strapped down and several straps secure his body to the gurney. He utters another unintelligible statement. Defense Attorney Dean Sanderford is quietly crying in the observation area.

6:38 p.m. Lockett is grimacing, grunting and lifting his head and shoulders entirely up from the gurney. He begins rolling his head from side to side. He again mumbles something we can’t understand, except for the word “man.” He lifts his head and shoulders off the gurney several times, as if he’s trying to sit up. He appears to be in pain.

Will Bunch asks,“If this isn’t torture, what the hell is?”:

The craving by the state’s top elected officials to murder Lockett and another man (whose execution was postponed in a case of too-little-too-late mercy) was so great that Gov. Mary Fallin and lawmakers went to extraordinary lengths to carry it out — arguably circumventing the state constitution and threatening to impeach judges who tried to uphold the rule of law. … As noted in news accounts tonight, drug companies have for the most part halted supplying the “conventional” drugs that were used in executions, so Oklahoma turned to unlawful state secrecy and used an apparently untested lethal cocktail, with predictable and pathetic results. The governor of an American state ordered the torture of a man tonight — that is immoral and unconscionable.

Regarding that state secrecy, Max Fisher adds:

Some states have even passed laws requiring drug suppliers to keep secret about the sales. Officials in Oklahoma have even taken to using petty cash when they purchase individual drugs for the cocktail in order to cover their tracks. The idea is to make it harder for lawyers to challenge the legality of their lethal injections by simply hiding the details.

Before the execution, Stephanie Mencimer covered the untested lethal injection drugs:

The public knows very little about the drugs that will be used to kill Lockett and Warner who stand convicted of murder. ​​Lockett shot a teenage girl, then buried her alive, while Warner raped and killed his girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter in 1997. Initially, the state said it would deploy a three-drug cocktail, including the sedative pentobarbital (normally used to euthanize animals); vercuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. The first drug is supposed to knock out the inmate so he doesn’t feel pain. The second drug paralyzes him so onlookers can’t tell if he’s suffering. But pentobarbital, which states substituted for sodium thiopental after it went off the market, works more slowly than the old drug, and wasn’t tested in advance to make sure it was an appropriate substitute. Also, lawyers argue that it doesn’t prevent pain during an execution. For that reason, injecting it into a conscious animal in California is actually a crime.

Brad Plumer looks at the history of botched executions:

It’s not the first time an execution dragged on because of the new drugs being used for lethal injections. In January, Ohio tried to execute a man with an untested cocktail — and it took 24 minutes for him to die. “[Dennis] McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air,” NPR reported, “making snorting and choking sounds which lasted for at least 10 minutes.”

And the history goes back even further than that. As Amherst law professor Austin Sarat documents in his new book, Gruesome Spectacles, executions gone horribly wrong have been a mainstay in the US for as long as the death penalty has been around.

By Sarat’s calculations, 3 percent of all executions between 1890 and 2010 have been “botched” (that is, they didn’t go according to protocol). That includes electric chairs catching on fire and hangings that led to decapitations. And, in fact, these “botched” executions have become even more common with the advent of lethal injections — about 7 percent have gone awry.

Ben Crair also looks at the specifics of this and other botched injections:

[A] “blown vein” occurs when an IV catheter is either pushed through both sides of a vein or misses the vein completely, causing the drugs to flow into the surrounding tissue. As a result, the drugs don’t reach their target. In a normal medical setting, a doctor and his team will establish IV access and supervise the administration of drugs. But the death chamber is not a normal medical setting. The American Medical Association prohibits its members from participating in executions, arguing doctors’ would violate their oath to protect their patients. …

[Inserting the IV]  is a harder job than you might think, especially in prisons, where inmates are often overweight and inactive, making their veins difficult to find. (Though Lockett’s lawyer insisted his client had “had large arms and very prominent veins.”) There is little oversight of the state’s selection of the individuals tasked with inserting the IV, whether they are physicians or paramedics. And this is the stage where, in the past, many executions have gone wrong. In 2006, a prisoner in Florida named Angel Diaz died a death similar to Lockett’s: After a blown vein, the chemicals pooled in his arms, causing burns. Diaz needed a second dose of drugs and took 34 minutes to die. That same year, in Ohio, Joseph Clark’s execution took 86 minutes as EMTs struggled to find a vein. In 2009, an EMT in Ohio jabbed Rommell Broom with a needle 18 times,trying to establish access. His execution was eventually postponed: He walked out of the death chamber alive. At that time, Deborah Denno, a professor of law at Fordham University, told me Broom’s execution was “the worst botched execution that has happened in the history of this country.”

Lockett’s execution might have surpassed it. In all likelihood, the executioner who inserted Lockett’s IV—and, in Oklahoma, an IV is inserted into both arms—missed the veins or went right through them.

Previous Dish on the guillotine alternative here and firing squad here.