Executioners spent 51 minutes searching for vein, used groin
The timeline raised further questions about Clayton Lockett’s treatment before and during the bungled execution and subsequent death.
The New York Times
McALESTER, Okla. —
Early the day of Clayton Lockett’s scheduled execution, he defied prison officers seeking to shackle him for the required walk to get X-rays. So they shocked him with a Taser, Oklahoma’s chief of corrections stated in an account released Thursday of Lockett’s final day, before his execution went awry.
Lockett also refused to see his attorneys and refused to eat.
Once he was in an examining room, the staff discovered he had slashed his arm; a physician assistant determined that sutures would not be needed.
Hours later Tuesday, as his 6 p.m. time for lethal injection approached, Lockett lay strapped on a gurney in the execution chamber.
Finding a suitable vein and placing an IV line took 51 minutes. A medical technician searched both of his arms, both of his legs and both of his feet for a vein into which to insert the needle, but “No viable point of entry was located,” reported the corrections chief, Robert Patton, in a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin that her office released. A doctor, the letter said, “went to the groin area.”
A catheter was inserted into Lockett’s groin, and officials placed a sheet over him for privacy. The account did not make clear who inserted the catheter.
A dose of the sedative midazolam at 6:23 p.m. took 10 minutes to put Lockett to sleep. Officials then injected him with the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide and then potassium chloride, according to the report.
According to witnesses, Lockett woke up and began clenching his teeth and thrashing. Executioners blocked the witnesses’ view with curtains at 6:42 p.m.
The Department of Corrections provided the newly detailed account as it reels from questions about its execution procedures and training of personnel as well as its sources of lethal drugs.
The timeline raised further questions about Lockett’s treatment before and during the bungled execution and subsequent death. Patton recommended indefinitely suspending further executions, an independent outside review of what took place and that he be given power over execution protocol and decision making, rather than the state penitentiary warden.
The governor had previously called for a review, but one conducted by a state official.
The account gave greater detail about Lockett’s final minutes and the frantic scene that unfolded after the blinds were drawn on witnesses. With something clearly going wrong, the doctor “checked the IV and reported that the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into the tissue, leaked out or both,” Patton wrote.
The warden called Patton, who asked: “Have enough drugs been administered to cause death?” The doctor answered “no.”
“Is another vein available, and if so, are there enough drugs remaining?” The doctor responded “no” again. Patton then asked about Lockett’s condition; the warden said the doctor “found a faint heartbeat” and that Lockett was unconscious.
At 6:56, Patton called off the execution. Ten minutes later, at 7:06, “Doctor pronounced Offender Lockett dead,” the letter states.
What happened in those 10 minutes after the execution was called off and before Lockett died is unclear and is the subject of criticism by defense attorneys.
“It’s unclear if they were trying to revive him or give him more drugs to kill him,” said Madeline Cohen, the attorney for another inmate, Charles Warner, who had been scheduled to die the same night but whose execution has been put off pending an investigation into Lockett’s death. “It just looks like a scene of complete incompetence.”
Autopsy results are pending.
Legal experts on the death penalty said they were surprised, even shocked, by several things revealed in the new letter.
“I’ve never heard of a case of an inmate being Tasered before being executed,” said Deborah Denno, an expert on execution at Fordham Law School and a death-penalty opponent.
David Dow, a death-penalty appellate lawyer in Texas, said prisoners sometimes resist leaving their cells, but “it’s not something that happens regularly.” He expressed surprise that the medical staff administering the drugs did not have a second vein ready in case of problems with the first.
“For a state that executes people,” he said, “they are awfully bad at it.”
Lockett, 38, was condemned for the murder of a 19-year-old woman whom he shot and buried alive. Warner, 46, was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old girl.
The disorderly execution, Lockett’s apparent suffering and the legal battles within Oklahoma that preceded it over the state’s refusal to disclose where it obtained execution drugs, have drawn international attention to problems with lethal injections. Accidents have become more common, experts say, as states, facing shortages in critical drugs, are trying new drugs and combinations from secret sources.
But Oklahoma officials said that problems with the IV delivery, not the drugs themselves, accounted for Tuesday night’s problems.
Anesthesiologists said that while they sometimes use a femoral vein accessible from the groin when those in the arms and legs are not accessible, the procedure is more complicated and potentially painful.
Putting a line in the groin “is a highly invasive and complex procedure which requires extensive experience, training and credentialing,” said Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University.
Oklahoma does not reveal the personnel involved in executions, and it was not clear from Patton’s letter whether a technician described as a phlebotomist or the doctor actually inserted the needle.
“There are a number of ways of checking whether a central line is properly placed in a vein, and had those been done they ought to have known ahead of time that the catheter was improperly positioned,” Heath said.
Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist at the Emory University School of Medicine, said the prison’s initial account that the vein had collapsed or blown was almost certainly incorrect. “The femoral vein is a big vessel,” Zivot said.
Finding the vein, however, can be tricky. The vein is not visible from the surface, and is near a major artery and nerves. “You can’t feel it, you can’t see it,” he said.
Without special expertise, Zivot said, the failure was not surprising.
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for the governor, said she could grant a stay to Warner only of up to 60 days, and that a request for an indefinite stay would have to be made by the attorney general to the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals.
“If he chooses to make that request, Gov. Fallin would support him,” Weintz said. “Ultimately, Gov. Fallin’s goal, as well as Director Patton’s, is to review the procedures at the Department of Corrections, ensure they work and then proceed with lawful executions in Oklahoma.”