This Letter Reveals the Harrowing Details of Oklahoma’s Botched Execution

A minute-by-minute timeline of Clayton Lockett’s death reveals his lethal injection was administered via his groin.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
See more stories about...
Dustin Volz
May 1, 2014, 12:45 p.m.

The Ok­lahoma De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions is call­ing for an in­def­in­ite stay on ex­e­cu­tions in the wake of the state’s botched killing of in­mate Clayton Lock­ett earli­er this week, an in­cid­ent some have likened to tor­ture.

Robert Pat­ton, the de­part­ment dir­ect­or, sent a minute-by-minute ex­e­cu­tion timeline to Gov. Mary Fal­l­in on Thursday that in­cludes a re­quest for the state to halt all ex­e­cu­tions un­til it can re­view and re­vise its pro­to­cols for car­ry­ing out death sen­tences.

“It will take sev­er­al days or pos­sibly a few weeks to re­fine the new pro­to­cols,” said Pat­ton, who at­ten­ded Lock­ett’s ex­e­cu­tion. “Once writ­ten, staff will re­quire ex­tens­ive train­ing and un­der­stand­ing of new pro­to­cols be­fore an ex­e­cu­tion can be sched­uled.”

Pat­ton’s re­com­mend­a­tions in­clude more over­sight placed in the hands of “up­per man­age­ment and ul­ti­mately on the Dir­ect­or of Cor­rec­tions.” Less re­spons­ib­il­ity, he said, should fall to the warden.

The de­tailed timeline in­cluded in Pat­ton’s let­ter walks through the events lead­ing up to Lock­ett’s death, which oc­curred 43 minutes after the pris­on­er was ad­min­istered a new and un­tested leth­al in­jec­tion. Those three drugs were in­tra­ven­ously pushed in­to Lock­ett via his “groin area,” ac­cord­ing to the timeline, after a med­ic­al of­fi­cial could not loc­ate a “vi­able in­ser­tion point” on Lock­ett’s arms, legs or feet.

Once it was clear the ex­e­cu­tion was not go­ing as planned, about 19 minutes since it star­ted, of­fi­cials lowered the death cham­ber’s blinds. This is what happened next:

The doc­tor checked the IV and re­por­ted the blood vein had col­lapsed, and the drugs had either ab­sorbed in­to the tis­sue, leaked out or both. The warden im­me­di­ately con­tac­ted the dir­ect­or by phone and re­por­ted the in­form­a­tion to the dir­ect­or. The dir­ect­or asked the fol­low­ing ques­tion, “Have enough drugs been ad­min­istered to cause death?” The doc­tor re­spon­ded, “No.” The dir­ect­or asked, “Is an­oth­er vein avail­able, and if so, are there enough drugs re­main­ing?” The doc­tor re­spon­ded, “No” to both ques­tions. The dir­ect­or re­ques­ted cla­ri­fic­a­tion as to wheth­er enough drugs had been ad­min­istered to cause death. The doc­tor re­spon­ded, “No.” The dir­ect­or asked the con­di­tion of the of­fend­er, the warden re­spon­ded the doc­tor was check­ing the of­fend­er’s heart beat and found a faint heart­beat and the of­fend­er was un­con­scious.

Twelve minutes after be­ing con­tac­ted, Pat­ton called off the ex­e­cu­tion “un­der the au­thor­ity gran­ted by the gov­ernor.” Lock­ett was pro­nounced dead due to a heart at­tack 10 minutes later, ac­cord­ing to the timeline.

Madeline Co­hen, an at­tor­ney for death-row in­mate Charles Warner, who was ori­gin­ally sched­uled for ex­e­cu­tion just hours after Lock­ett, con­demned Ok­lahoma for “re­veal­ing in­form­a­tion about this ex­cru­ci­at­ingly in­hu­mane ex­e­cu­tion in a chaot­ic man­ner, with the threat of ex­e­cu­tion loom­ing.”

“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,” Co­hen said in a state­ment. “The timeline “¦ strongly in­dic­ates that the femor­al IV was nev­er prop­erly in­ser­ted, and the drugs were in­jec­ted in­to Mr. Lock­ett’s flesh, rather than his veins.”

The timeline also says that Lock­ett was Tasered by guards in the early morn­ing hours be­fore his even­ing ex­e­cu­tion on Tues­day for fail­ing to com­ply with or­ders to un­der­go med­ic­al X-rays. Lock­ett also cut his right arm, a wound for which he was treated.

In ad­di­tion to a re­quest to in­def­in­itely stay ex­e­cu­tions, Pat­ton’s let­ter asks for an ex­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the cir­cum­stances of Lock­ett’s death.

“While I have com­plete con­fid­ence in the abil­it­ies of my in­spect­or gen­er­al and his staff, I be­lieve the re­port will be per­ceived as more cred­ible if con­duc­ted by an ex­tern­al en­tity,” he said.

On Wed­nes­day, Fal­l­in, a Re­pub­lic­an, said she would halt ex­e­cu­tions un­til the state’s pub­lic-safety com­mis­sion­er could con­duct an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to Ok­lahoma’s ex­e­cu­tion pro­to­cols and Lock­ett’s death. Death-pen­alty op­pon­ents have at­tacked that de­cision as not truly in­de­pend­ent be­cause it will still come from Fal­l­in’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The White House said Wed­nes­day that Lock­ett’s death “fell short” of hu­mane stand­ards that should be ex­pec­ted in all ex­e­cu­tions.

What We're Following See More »
Metro to Begin Rolling Closures Next Month
9 minutes ago

Beginning next month, Metro will begin a series of "about 15 separate large-scale work projects," each of which will close down stations and/or sections of track for up to weeks at a time. The entire initiative is expected to take about a year. The Washington Post has a list of the schedule of closures, and which lines and stations they'll affect.

Trump to Meet with Ryan, Leadership Next Week
16 minutes ago

A day after saying he could not yet support Donald Trump's presidential bid, House Speaker Paul Ryan has invited the billionaire to a meeting in Washington next week with House leadership. Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will also meet separately with Trump. 

Obama on Trump: ‘This Is a Really Serious Job’
35 minutes ago

"President Obama used the White House podium on Friday to dismiss Donald Trump as an unserious candidate to succeed him, and said leading the country isn't a job that's suited to reality show antics." At a briefing with reporters, the president said, "I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny."

Panama Papers Spur White House to Crack Down on Evasion
2 hours ago

In the The White House on Thursday night unveiled a series of executive actions to combat money laundering—"among the most comprehensive response yet to the Panama Papers revelations." The president's orders will tighten transparency rules, close loopholes that allow "foreigners to hide financial activity behind anonymous entities in the U.S., and demand stricter “customer due diligence” rules for banks.

Who’s #NeverTrump Courting as Possible Candidates
3 hours ago

The #NeverTrump movement is now mulling the idea of recruiting a candidate to run as an independent or under a third-party banner. But who might it be? The Hill offers a preliminary list.

  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)
  • Mitt Romney
  • 2012 (and perhaps 2016) Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson
  • Former Marine Gen. John Kelly
  • Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)
  • Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
  • South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)