Oklahoma Prison Chief Calls For Review Following Botched Execution
by SEAN MURPHY
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma prison officials tried for 51 minutes to find a vein in a death row inmate's arms and feet before inserting an IV through the man's groin ahead of a botched execution this week, the state's prisons chief said Thursday in a report urging more oversight of executions.
Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 10 minutes after prisons director Robert Patton halted the execution Tuesday night. Patton said Lockett had an intravenous tap placed at his groin because suitable veins couldn't be found elsewhere. That vein collapsed, and Patton said Lockett didn't have another viable one — and that the state didn't have another dose of the drugs available anyway.
The IV line was covered by a sheet because it had been placed at Lockett's groin, Patton said in his letter to the governor detailing Lockett's last day. The line becoming dislodged wasn't discovered until 21 minutes after the execution began and all of the execution drugs had been injected into the line.
"The drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both," Patton wrote. "The director asked the following question, 'Have enough drugs been administered to cause death?' The doctor responded, 'No.'"
After the doctor attending the execution found a faint heartbeat, Patton ordered the execution stopped. Lockett died anyway.
Oklahoma's execution rules call for medical personnel to immediately give emergency aid if a stay is granted while the lethal drugs are being administered, but it's not clear if that happened. The report does not say what occurred from when Patton called off the execution at 6:56 p.m. to Lockett being pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m.
The report also indicated that on his last morning, Lockett fought with guards who attempted to remove him from his cell and he was shocked with a stun gun. After being taken to a prison infirmary, a self-inflicted cut was found on Lockett's arm that was determined not to require stitches. The report also notes that Lockett refused food at breakfast and lunch.
Madeline Cohen, an attorney for inmate Charles Warner, who had been scheduled to be executed two hours after Lockett, said Oklahoma was revealing information about the events "in a chaotic manner."
"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. "Placing such a femoral IV line requires highly specialized medical training and expertise."
Warner's execution was initially rescheduled for May 13. Patton called Thursday for an indefinite stay, something Cohen said she agreed was necessary.
Gov. Mary Fallin, who has ordered one of her Cabinet members to investigate the botched execution, said Thursday she was willing to issue a 60-day stay for Warner, the longest allowed under state law, if needed to complete the inquiry.
"If it does require more time, then yes, I think they should take more time," Fallin said Thursday. "We need to get it right."
If 60 days is not adequate, Oklahoma's attorney general said he would request an additional stay from the courts to ensure no executions are carried out until the review is complete.
In his recommendations to the governor, Patton also said it was wrong to leave "all responsibility and decision-making" to the warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester, where executions are carried out.
"Those decisions should rest on upper management and ultimately on the Director of Corrections," Patton wrote.
The director said the state should:
—Conduct a full review of execution procedures, and ensure Oklahoma "adopts proven standards."
—Give staff the "extensive training" required once new protocols are written.
—Allow an external review of what went wrong. "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," Patton said.
Fallin had announced similar steps Wednesday.
Lockett's execution was to have started at 6 p.m., but according to a timeline with Patton's letter a medical technician working from 5:27 p.m. to 6:18 p.m. couldn't find a suitable place for an intravenous line on Lockett's arms, legs, feet and neck. Ultimately, the IV line was placed at Lockett's groin and the area was covered with a sheet, the letter said.
Inserting IVs into the groin area — the upper thigh or pelvic region — is often done for trauma patients and in experienced hands can be straightforward, but injecting in the femoral vein can be tricky because it's not as visible as arm veins and lies next to the femoral artery, said Dr. Jonathan Weisbuch, a physician in Phoenix.
The execution started at 6:23 p.m. Typically inmates die in about 10 minutes. Patton stopped the execution at 6:56 p.m., but 10 minutes later Lockett apparently suffered a heart attack. Autopsy results are pending.
Associated Press Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contribute to this report.