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
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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.

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