1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

US botches inmate execution

April 30, 2014

A US inmate in the state of Oklahoma has died during a botched execution 40 minutes after officials ordered proceedings. His death raises questions about new drug cocktails used to carry out the death penalty.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Clayton Lockett, 38, was declared unconscious on Tuesday 10 minutes after the first of Oklahoma's new three-drug lethal injection combination was administered. Three minutes later, he strained to lift his head and started mumbling while clinching his teeth.

The doctor on scene ordered his execution to be halted. The blinds were eventually lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from seeing what was unfolding in the execution chamber. According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Lockett died shortly thereafter of an apparent massive heart attack, approximately 40 minutes after proceedings began.

"We believe that a vein was blown and the drugs weren't working as they were designed to," said corrections department spokesman Jerry Massie. "The director ordered a halt to the execution."

Lockett's attorney, David Autry, called the execution "a horrible thing to witness."

"This was totally botched," he said.

Immediately after Lockett's death, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton ordered a 14-day delay to the execution of Charles Warner, who was set to be put to death two hours later.

"After weeks of Oklahoma refusing to disclose basic information about the drugs for tonight's lethal injection procedures, tonight, Clayton Lockett was tortured to death," said Warner's lawyer Madeline Cohen in a statement.

Controversial drug combinations

The apparent botched execution is likely to fuel further debate about the ability of states to carry out lethal injections that meet constitutional guidelines against cruel and usual punishment. Lawyers of death row inmates have argued that new lethal injection cocktails used in Oklahoma and other states would cause such undue suffering.

Several states of scrambled to find new drug cocktails to use in executions because drugmakers opposed to capital punishment - many of which are based in Europe - have halted sales to prisons and corrections departments.

"This could be a real turning point in the whole debate as people get disgusted by this sort of thing," said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment. "This might lead to a halt in executions until states can prove they can do it without problems. Someone was killed tonight by complete incompetence."

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

Following the botched execution Tuesday, Governor Mary Fallin ordered a "full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening's execution."

Lockett was convicted in 2000 for the rape and murder of a young woman he kidnapped, beat and buried alive. Warner was found guilty in 1997 of raping and murdering an 11-month-old girl.

dr/hc (AFP, Reuters, AP)