Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections / AP

Drugs, not heart attack, caused death in botched Oklahoma execution

Autopsy report finds Clayton Lovett’s death a ‘judicial execution by lethal injection,’ does not mention its duration

Oklahoma officials released autopsy results finding the drug cocktail used in the state’s execution killed Clayton Lockett, who writhed, moaned and clenched his teeth before he was pronounced dead about 43 minutes after his execution began.

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton Oklahoma originally reported he succumbed to a heart attack at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on April 29.

Lovett’s death was determined to be a "judicial execution by lethal injection," according to the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences at Dallas, which performed the autopsy that determined all three execution drugs administered to Lockett eventually made it into his system after medical technicians poked him at least a dozen times as they tried to find a vein before settling on using one in his groin. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin requested the Dallas autopsy, according to the Tulsa World.

But the autopsy report does not answer are why the "judicial execution" took so long and why Lockett writhed on the gurney, two of the questions that colored the discussion in the aftermath of the killing that the White House said “fell short” of humane standards.

Oklahoma put executions on hold after Lockett's April 29 execution.

A spokesman for the Corrections Department, Jerry Massie, said prison officials would have no comment on the autopsy until after public safety officials release their findings and recommendations.

Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Phoenix, who represents a group of Oklahoma death row prisoners who commissioned an independent autopsy of Lockett, said more information is needed.

"What this initial autopsy report does not appear to answer is what went wrong during Mr. Lockett's execution, which took over 45 minutes, with witnesses reporting he writhed and gasped in pain, " Baich said in a statement. Officials at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester have said Lockett's vein collapsed during the lethal injection process.

Lockett's attorney, David Autry of Oklahoma City, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Lockett, 38, was convicted of first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery for a 1999 crime spree with two co-defendants. Teenager Stephanie Nieman was shot and buried alive in a shallow grave, where she eventually died.

The Department of Corrections also released official logs Thursday of the days and hours leading up to Lockett’s execution. The logs said a doctor checked twice to see if Lockett was unconscious during the April 29 execution. It noted that 12 minutes after the lethal injection of chemicals was administered, "blinds lowered in chamber."

The next entry comes 24 minutes later: "Doctor pronounced offender dead."

Oklahoma and other death penalty states have encountered problems in recent years obtaining lethal injection chemicals after major drugmakers stopped selling them for use in executions. That has forced states to find alternative drugs, purchased mostly from loosely regulated pharmacies that custom-make medications. Many states refuse to name suppliers and offer no details about how the drugs are tested or how executioners are trained.

In Lockett's execution, Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam for the first time. The drug was also used in lengthy attempts to execute an Ohio inmate in January and an Arizona prisoner last month. Each time, witnesses said the inmates appeared to gasp after their executions began and continued to labor for air before being pronounced dead.

Midazolam is part of a three-drug and a two-drug protocol in Oklahoma. Lockett's execution used a three-drug protocol —midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The state also has a protocol that would use midazolam with hydromorphone, the same combination used in the problematic executions in Ohio and Arizona this year.

Toxicology reports said all three lethal drugs were found in Lockett's system — the sedative in brain tissue and elsewhere and the other drugs in his blood.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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