Obama: Botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma 'deeply troubling'

A new account of the attempted execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett raises more concerns about the process. Obama orders Justice Department review of use of capital punishment.

By , Staff writer

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    Robert Patton, Oklahoma's chief of corrections, talks with members of the media Tuesday about the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, in Tulsa, Okla. In a letter to Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Patton released new details of the hours leading up to Lockett's death, which are likely to fuel further controversy.
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In his first public response to Oklahoma's botched execution by lethal injection this week, President Obama called for a review by the Justice Department of the use of capital punishment in the US and directed officials there to ask "hard questions" about its future.

“In the application of the death penalty, we have seen significant problems,” such as racial bias and the execution of innocents, as well as the "deeply troubling" execution of Clayton Lockett, he said, responding to a question at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.

“All these do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied," he added.

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A new account of Mr. Lockett’s death Tuesday tells a narrative of an execution more grim than previously realized.

The report, released Thursday, sketches in time-stamped detail the last 14 hours of Lockett’s life, before he ultimately died of a heart attack brought on by a bungled lethal injection procedure. Its new revelation is that Lockett was Tasered several hours before his execution, and it confirms suspicions that a medical examiner botched the IV insertion process.

For days, the story of how Lockett died – in apparent pain, though lethal injection is supposed to be painless – has drawn worldwide criticism.

In response, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who allowed Lockett’s execution to go forward even though the state Supreme Court had ruled in favor of a stay of execution, ordered a 14-day stay for another inmate who was scheduled to die just two hours after Lockett.

That man, Charles Warner, is currently slated to be put to death on May 13. But the latest account of Lockett’s execution, sent by Robert Patton, Oklahoma’s chief of corrections, to Governor Fallin in a letter, raises questions that could further delay the execution and stoke outrage from death penalty opponents. The governor has called for a "full review." 

At 5 a.m. on April 29, about 13 hours before the execution, prison officials and medical personnel arrived at Lockett’s cell to transport him to have X-rays done, reads the narrative. Lockett refused to wear the required shackles. So, at 5:50 a.m., prison staff shocked him with a Taser.

Then, at 6:35 a.m., Lockett arrived at the medical facilities, where personnel examined “self-inflicted injuries” that staffers had noticed earlier that morning in his cell. The New York Times describes the wounds as Lockett's having “slashed his own arm.” Officials decided that the wounds did not need stitches, according to the report.

At about 5:22 p.m., Lockett, who had no last words, was strapped to the gurney, but a medical technician struggled to find a suitable vein in which to insert the IV line. After spending 51 minutes searching for a “viable point of entry” in Lockett’s arms, legs, or feet, someone inserted the IV line into Lockett’s “groin area,” and the execution began at 6:23 that evening.

What happened next unfolded in a series of tweets by Associated Press reporter Bailey Elise McBride (all tweets were posted after the execution), as well as in the narratives of media witnesses from Tulsa World, KFOR-TV, and others.

At 6:33 p.m., the doctor told witnesses that Lockett was unconscious. But at 6:34, Lockett began to “nod” and “mumble.” He “tried to sit up.” Someone inside the execution room was heard saying, “something’s wrong.” At 6:42, prison staff hastily drew the shades and escorted the witnesses from the viewing room. Outside, Ms. McBride wondered on Twitter if Lockett might be en route to the hospital.

The latest report includes no mention of Lockett’s behavior from 6:33 p.m. to 6:42. It says that, at about 6:44 p.m., the doctor called Mr. Patton to tell him that something had gone wrong: The vein had collapsed.

When Patton asked the doctor if enough drugs had been administered to cause death, the doctor said no. When Patton asked if another vein could be used, or if there were enough drugs left to finish, the doctor also said no, according to the report.

At 6:56 p.m., Patton told the doctor to stop the execution. At 7:06 p.m., Lockett died of a heart attack.

Lockett had been sentenced to death for shooting a 19-year-old woman and allowing his accomplices to bury her alive. Warner, the inmate scheduled to die later this month, was convicted of raping and killing his roommate’s baby. 

Experts told The New York Times that the narrative described in Patton’s letter is startling and that they had never before heard of corrections officers using a Taser on an inmate before an execution. They also said they found it baffling that medical personnel had not pre-identified a second vein, should the first one fail.

The White House has also called the execution “inhumane,” and several anti-death-penalty groups have issued statements that Oklahoma has proved itself unable to perform executions in accordance with constitutional standards.

At the end of his account, Patton asked the governor to indefinitely stay all executions in the state. Even after the investigation was complete, staff would still require “extensive training” in the new measures before executions could resume, he wrote.

At a press conference Thursday night, Fallin said she had the authority to extend the stay up to 60 days, but was awaiting further information on the status of the investigation before deciding whether to do so.

To put the execution on hold for more than 60 days, the attorney general would have to obtain approval from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, according to News OK. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt told News OK that he would seek one “if necessary.”

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