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Home > Topics > EMS News

Okla. inmate dies of heart attack after botched execution

The state tried out a new lethal injection drug combination that included 100 milligrams of midazolam

By Bailey Elise McBride and Sean Murphy
The Associated Press

McALESTER, Okla. — A botched execution that used a new drug combination left an Oklahoma inmate writhing and clenching his teeth on the gurney Tuesday, leading prison officials to halt the proceedings before the inmate's eventual death from a heart attack.

Clayton Lockett, 38, was declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of the state's new three-drug lethal injection combination was administered. Three minutes later, though, he began breathing heavily, writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.

The blinds were eventually lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening in the death chamber, and the state's top prison official eventually called a halt to the proceedings. Lockett died of a heart attack a short time later, the Department of Corrections said.

"It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched," said Lockett's attorney, David Autry.

The problems with the execution are likely to fuel more debate about the ability of states to administer lethal injections that meet the U.S. Constitution's requirement they be neither cruel nor unusual punishment. That question has drawn renewed attention from defense attorneys and death penalty opponents in recent months, as several states scrambled to find new sources of execution drugs because drugmakers that oppose capital punishment — many based in Europe — have stopped selling to prisons and corrections departments.

Defense attorneys have unsuccessfully challenged several states' policies of shielding the identities of the new sources of their execution drugs. Missouri and Texas, like Oklahoma, have both refused to reveal their sources, but both of those states have since successfully carried out executions with their new supplies.

Tuesday was the first time Oklahoma used the drug midazolam as the first element in its execution drug combination. Other states have used it before; Florida administers 500 milligrams of midazolam as part of its three-drug combination. Oklahoma used 100 milligrams.

"They should have anticipated possible problems with an untried execution protocol," Autry said. "Obviously the whole thing was gummed up and botched from beginning to end. Halting the execution obviously did Lockett no good."

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a 14-day stay of execution for an inmate who was scheduled to die two hours after Lockett, Charles Warner. She also ordered the state's Department of Corrections to conduct a "full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening's execution."

Robert Patton, the department's director, halted Lockett's execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. He later said there had been vein failure.

The execution began at 6:23 p.m., when officials began administering the first drug, the sedative midazolam. A doctor declared Lockett to be unconscious at 6:33 p.m.

Once an inmate is declared unconscious, the state's execution protocol calls for the second drug, a paralytic, to be administered. The third drug in the protocol is potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Patton said the second and third drugs were being administered when a problem was noticed and it's unclear how much of the drugs made it into the inmate's system.

Lockett began writhing at 6:36. At 6:39, a doctor lifted the sheet that was covering the inmate to examine the injection site.

"There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having that (desired) effect, and the doctor observed the line at that time and determined the line had blown," Patton said at a news conference afterward, referring to Lockett's vein rupturing.

After an official lowered the blinds, Patton made a series of phone calls before calling a halt to the execution.

"After conferring with the warden, and unknown how much drugs went into him, it was my decision at that time to stop the execution," Patton told reporters.

Lockett was declared dead at 7:06 p.m.

Autry, Lockett's attorney, was immediately skeptical of the department's determination the issue was limited to a problem with Lockett's vein.

"I'm not a medical professional, but Mr. Lockett was not someone who had compromised veins," Autry said. "He was in very good shape. He had large arms and very prominent veins."

In Ohio, the January execution of an inmate who made snorting and gasping sounds led to a civil rights lawsuit by his family and calls for a moratorium. The state has stood by the execution but said Monday that it's boosting the dosages of its lethal injection drugs.

A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999 after Neiman and a friend arrived at a home the men were robbing.

Warner had been scheduled to be put to death two hours later in the same room and on the same gurney. The 46-year-old was convicted of raping and killing his roommate's 11-month-old daughter in 1997. He has maintained his innocence.

Lockett and Warner had sued the state for refusing to disclose details about the execution drugs, including where Oklahoma obtained them.

The case, filed as a civil matter, placed Oklahoma's two highest courts at odds and prompted calls for the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices after the court last week issued a rare stay of execution. The high court later dissolved its stay and dismissed the inmates' claim that they were entitled to know the source of the drugs.

Associated PressCopyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

By then, Fallin had weighed into the matter by issuing a stay of her own — a one-week delay in Lockett's execution that resulted in both men being scheduled to die on the same day.

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Krista Gregory Krista Gregory Wednesday, April 30, 2014 1:33:02 PM Seems like he deserved a violent death!! His crime was caused a violent death of a young girl, I'm sorry I am not concerned with his rights. He shouldn't have any more rights than the young girl he killed!
Jarrad Bowes Jarrad Bowes Wednesday, April 30, 2014 1:47:00 PM So pretty much what they're saying is they killed a guy in the process of...killing..a...guy.
Jerry Williams Jerry Williams Wednesday, April 30, 2014 1:51:08 PM Why do people care so much about how these pieces of crap suffered. Their victims were not allowed to be killed in a painless method. I think beheading with a dull axe would be a good way to execute these people.
B Dwayne Armstrong B Dwayne Armstrong Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:03:02 PM I couldn't care less if he suffered because I would actually prefer that he did.
Dave McCombs Dave McCombs Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:07:27 PM Concur. Big whoop.
Joe Feinhals Joe Feinhals Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:17:35 PM Remember what you do in life, will come back on you. Need to go back to public hangings in front of the court house.
Janice Taylor Janice Taylor Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:21:26 PM So he suffered! Didn't his 19 year old victim suffer when she was shot and buried while still alive? Do you really feel he deserves any more sympathy than what was shown to her? I think not. Justice was served.
Chris Dennis Chris Dennis Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:28:31 PM He apparently wasn't too concerned with the rights of his victim, nor the amount of suffering he and his buddies inflicted on the victim. So why should the rest of be concerned about his "rights"??? As far as I'm concerned, this piece of crap's rights were forfeited when he committed such a heinous act!
Teresa Walker Tow Teresa Walker Tow Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:28:33 PM I'm thinking "who cares?"
Mike Kubec Mike Kubec Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:39:19 PM An EMS website can't even recognize the difference between a "heart attack" and "cardiac arrest"?!
Brianna Ireland Brianna Ireland Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:58:14 PM They were trying to kill him. They succeeded. I don't see the problem
J.j. Gemmell J.j. Gemmell Wednesday, April 30, 2014 3:22:51 PM You can't stop Bad Karma !
William Buehner William Buehner Wednesday, April 30, 2014 3:32:25 PM he's dead right, so how was it botched. so the poor baby's vein blew, so what. after what he did I have NO pity whatsoever
Brandon Prill Brandon Prill Wednesday, April 30, 2014 3:50:53 PM Why not just stop making execution a medical procedure? If you want to eliminate these problems...just stop using medicine as the means to execute.
Sandi Bliss Sandi Bliss Wednesday, April 30, 2014 4:10:41 PM Isn't that what they call 'Karma" !?!?!
Jim Nyberg Jim Nyberg Wednesday, April 30, 2014 4:24:00 PM 500 milligrams of Midazolam (Versed)?? that seems like a lot to make someone unconscious-normal doses for RSI sedation are 5-10 mg....
Dusty Ross Dusty Ross Wednesday, April 30, 2014 4:41:31 PM 100 milligrams of midazolam/versed would be fatal by itself much less 500 mg like florida gives. These doses have to be wrong. The standard dose for sedation is 0.1 mg/kg so 100 mg is 10 times the dose a 220 pound patient would require. "Tuesday was the first time Oklahoma used the drug midazolam as the first element in its execution drug combination. Other states have used it before; Florida administers 500 milligrams of midazolam as part of its three-drug combination. Oklahoma used 100 milligrams."
Eileen Denny Eileen Denny Wednesday, April 30, 2014 4:42:46 PM I so agree.
Aaron Boeh Aaron Boeh Wednesday, April 30, 2014 8:46:49 PM The reason why we care is because the prisoner's punishment was to be put to death in a humane way. If we start giong down the rabbit hole of "who cares" or intentionally causing the condemned to be in a state of, for the lack of a better word, torture is a very slippery slope,stemming the question: To what end? In more ways than even the wisest person could describe, it would boil down to; that these laws adhere to basic human rights and were put into practice due to lessons, very hard lessons, learned by our forefathers who had practiced crude and archaic methods of execution and realizing that the affect goes much deeper than just the condemned. For example, the families on both sides, who are innocent by the way, are also profoundly affected. If you had a child who was going to be executed, would you want to see them suffer during the execution? Or if your loved one was murdered, would you allow your lust for satisfaction blind you to the fact that there is another mother and/or father watching their child die in suffering? Im not trying to judge, I am merely trying to show why all points of view encompassing the condemned and afflicted must be taken into consideration by our judicial system otherwise we are no better than the individuals we are punishing.
Chris Dennis Chris Dennis Thursday, May 01, 2014 6:38:53 AM Remember Stephanie Neiman, the woman he killed instead of this POS. This is an excerpt from a Tulsa article on Stephanie's last minutes: Neiman was forced to watch as Lockett's accomplice, Shawn Mathis, spent 20 minutes digging a shallow grave in a ditch beside the road. Her friends saw Neiman standing in the ditch and heard a single shot. Lockett returned to the truck because the gun had jammed. He later said he could hear Neiman pleading, "Oh God, please, please" as he fixed the shotgun. The men could be heard "laughing about how tough Stephanie was" before Lockett shot Neiman a second time. "He ordered Mathis to bury her, despite the fact that Mathis informed him Stephanie was still alive."
Daryl H. Johnson Jr. Daryl H. Johnson Jr. Thursday, May 01, 2014 7:19:15 AM How was it "botched"? Dead is dead....
Keenan Radcliffe Keenan Radcliffe Thursday, May 01, 2014 7:42:22 AM Vein blew, not a big deal we can fix this. Instead of using a vein now, start a radial arterial line. Uses same equipment and injection apparatus is pressurized. It takes a hell of a lot to blow an artery. If that doesn't work start a jugular line. If that fails don't worry inmate will have about 10 seconds before they pass out from blood loss. Then problem will again solve itself.
Jonathan Hess Jonathan Hess Thursday, May 01, 2014 8:07:45 AM Agreed with Jerry Williams. And dude with no medical background shut your mouth about medical talk them. I have seen many people with very good veins and they have blown far easier than smaller harder to see veins.
Phil Jordon Phil Jordon Thursday, May 01, 2014 2:19:58 PM Autry's right, he's not a medical professional.
Frank Staples Frank Staples Thursday, May 01, 2014 3:51:50 PM I don't believe anyone here is making an argument for torturing a prisoner...I believe the feeling here is "so what if it took him half an hour to die". I know I don't care! This guy buried a person alive and they died in how long? Full of fear and agony?
Aaron Boeh Aaron Boeh Thursday, May 01, 2014 8:19:16 PM Fair enough brother, people have a right to their views, I appreciate and respect your comment. I am so thankful we live in a country where we can have our voice be heard without fear, because of so many who paid, with their own blood,the price for the freedoms that we are exercising right now. It is up to us as citizens and civil servants of our society to be non apathetic stewards of our governments laws and methods of due process. We must address said methods even when the ends seem to justify the means. The inmate in question did a horrific act to another human being and was judged and sentenced fairly. However, if our methods to carrying out a sentence are uncalculated or careless; tell me what is the defining characteristic between us and an angry mob? Is this acceptable? Or should there be a standard, better put, a check and balance to how we carry out the sentences of our condemned? I apologize if my comment was depicting judgement upon others views, sometimes words don't always come out in the way one would intend. I was simply trying to be a voice caution not judgement. i honestly hope you have a wonderful day, thank you for what you do,stay safe. FTM, PTB, EGH, RFB, KTF, DTRT..Semper Vigilans.
Russel L McCroskey Russel L McCroskey Friday, May 02, 2014 11:03:30 AM I personally think the courts have taken the cruel and unusual punishment too far.. I think it was put in place to prevent the use of medieval torture devices like the rack.. I really don't think they cared what pain someone who was being executed felt.. I believe it was put in place to prevent torture not prevent executions or dictate how they were carried out...

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