The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Inmate dies following botched Oklahoma execution, second execution delayed

Placeholder while article actions load

An Oklahoma inmate who was supposed to be executed Tuesday instead died of a heart attack after the execution was botched, state officials said.

Clayton Lockett’s execution Tuesday night was halted after about 20 minutes due to an issue with a vein, the Associated Press reported. Not long after Lockett was deemed unconscious from the first of three drugs, he began “writhing on the gurney,” according to the Associated Press. He was declared dead 43 minutes after the execution began.

Lockett and Charles F. Warner were both supposed to be executed Tuesday night, Lockett at 6 p.m. and Warner at 8 p.m. After the botched execution, Warner’s execution has been stayed for two weeks. Lockett was convicted of shooting a teenager and watching as she was buried alive; Warner was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend’s 11-month-old baby.

The attorney for Warner had criticized the use of an experimental new drug protocol in the execution earlier on Tuesday.

“Because the issue of secrecy in lethal injection has not been substantively addressed by the courts, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner will be executed without basic information about the experimental combination of drugs used in their deaths,” Madeline Cohen said in a statement. “Despite repeated requests by counsel, the state has refused, again, and again, to provide information about the source, purity, testing and efficacy of the drugs to be used.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said in a statement Tuesday night that she was issuing a two-week stay of execution for Warner.

“I have asked the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett,” she said.

Lockett’s death, meant to be the 20th execution of the year in the U.S., was the second botched execution so far in 2014. In January, Dennis McGuire’s execution in Ohio lasted for nearly 25 minutes; he choked, gasped and struggled before dying. McGuire’s execution, like that of Lockett, used the drug midazolam (which has also been used in five other executions this year).

The Oklahoma execution comes after the state changed its lethal injection protocol last month; the two executions in the state earlier this year, both in January, were three-drug combinations using the drug pentobarbital.

This episode follows a lengthy scramble by multiple states to maintain lethal injection despite drug shortages. As a result of these shortages, states have had to change the drugs they use for executions and have tried a number of different drug combinations. The first four executions this year were carried out using four different drug combinations.

“In 2014, we have a far riskier, more haphazard lethal injection procedure than we ever have had throughout the country,” Deborah W. Denno, a death penalty expert and a professor at Fordham Law School, told The Post earlier this year.

Capital punishment remains on the decline in the U.S. Several states have banned the practice in recent years, while the number of executions overall has dropped. While a majority of Americans still support capital punishment, that level of support is the lowest it has been since 1972.

Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said shortly after the botched Ohio execution that similar executions could shock the public.

“If that were happening regularly, this whole thing might unravel,” Dieter said. “The public does not like that. It supports the death penalty, but it has to be massaged or covered…with some veil of humaneness.”

Still, even as the U.S. executed fewer people last year than any year since 2008, the country is still among the five nations that executed the most people in 2013.

Bailey Elise McBride of the Associated Press tweeted a series of nightmarish details about the botched execution in Oklahoma shortly after it occurred:

This post has been updated.