Yesterday, April 29th, Oklahoma tried to lethally inject death row inmate Clayton D. Lockett with a new “cocktail” of three drugs for his execution.
His lawyer compared the episode to torture.
The first drug used was midazolam, which is a sedative and is also used as an anti-seizure drug and is supposed to render the prisoner unconscious. This was followed by vecuronium bromide, a paralyzing agent that stops the person from breathing, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
The exact mix and dosage had never been used in an execution before.
Florida has used a similar method to the one described above, but it employed a dose of midazolam five times greater.
Ohio has used midazolam, but they combined it with a different drug, hydromorphone, in the January execution of Dennis McGuire, which took more than 20 minutes.
The execution in Oklahoma began at 6:23pm – 23 minutes past its scheduled start. A medical technician inserted the IV needle and then the first drug was administered. Ten minutes later, a doctor announced that Mr. Lockett was unconscious, and the group started to administer the next two drugs.
At 6:36 pm, Lockett kicked his right leg and his head rolled to the side. He mumbled something unintelligible. A minute later, his body started writhing and bucking and it looked like he was trying to get up. Both arms were strapped down and several straps secured his body to the gurney. He uttered something else that couldn’t be understood.
At 6:38 pm, Lockett was grimacing, grunting and he lifted his head and shoulders entirely up from the gurney. He began rolling his head from side to side. He again mumbled something unintelligible, except for the word “man.” He lifted his head and shoulders off the gurney several times, as if he was trying to sit up. He appeared to be in pain.
Prison personnel then covered the windows to the execution room and it is not known what happened thereafter, except that a vein “blew” during the execution process and Lockett later suffered a heart attack.
He was pronounced dead at 7:06pm, 43 minutes after the process began. Most executions in Oklahoma take 5 to 8 minutes.
Drugs previously used for execution are becoming hard to obtain. Most of the drugs are only made in Europe, and the European Union has a ban on exporting drugs used for the death penalty.
One such drug is sodium thiopental. The UK introduced a ban on the export of sodium thiopental in December 2010. It was established that no European supplies to the US were being used for any other purpose but lethal injection.
Faced with shortages, Oklahoma and other states have turned to compounding pharmacies — lightly regulated laboratories that mix up drugs to order.
Several states have passed secrecy laws, allowing them to keep the names of their suppliers, and in some cases the contents of the lethal injection, a secret. (Oklahoma is so eager to hide the source of its death drugs that it buys them with petty cash so there are no transaction records.)
The secrecy over the suppliers of lethal injection drugs has lead to court battles over due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers for Lockett said the lack of supplier information made it impossible to know if the drugs were safe and effective, or might violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Opponents of the new compound drugs have raised questions about quality control, especially after the widely reported dying gasps of a convict in Ohio for more than 10 minutes, and an Oklahoma inmate’s utterance, “I feel my whole body burning,” after being injected with compounded drugs.
Officials in Oklahoma swore that the drugs had been obtained legally from licensed pharmacies. They said they had found a federally approved manufacturer to provide the drugs for the execution, but refused to identify it.
Other states such as Texas and Georgia have similar secrecy laws in regards to execution drugs.