McALESTER, Okla. — What was supposed to be the first of two executions here on Tuesday night was halted when the prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “oh, man,” according to witnesses.The administering doctor intervened and discovered that “the line had blown,” said the director of corrections, Robert Patton, meaning that drugs were no longer flowing into Mr. Lockett’s vein.At 7:06 p.m., Mr. Patton said, Mr. Lockett died in the execution chamber, of a heart attack.
It was a chaotic and disastrous step in Oklahoma’s long effort to execute the two men, overcoming their objections that the state would not disclose the source of the drugs being used in a newly tried combination.
According to Mr. Patton, it was the method of administration, not the drugs themselves, that failed, but it resulted in what witnesses called an agonizing scene.“This was botched, and it was difficult to watch,” said David Autry, one of Mr. Lockett’s lawyers.
Dean Sanderford, another lawyer for Mr. Lockett, said, “It looked like torture.”A medical technican inserted the IV needle and then the the first drug, a sedative intended to knock the man out and forestall pain, was administered at 6:23 p.m. Ten minutes later, the doctor announced that Mr. Lockett was unconscious, and the team started to administer the next two drugs, a paralytic and one intended to make the heart stop.At that point, witnesses said, things began to go awry. Mr. Lockett’s body twitched, his foot shook and he mumbled, witnesses said.At 6:37 p.m., he tried to rise and exhaled loudly. At that point, prison officials pulled a curtain in front of the witnesses and the doctor discovered a “vein failure,” Mr. Patton said.Without effective sedation, the second two drugs are known to cause agonizing suffocation and pain.
Mr. Lockett’s apparent revival and writhing raised questions about the doctor’s initial declaration that he was unconscious and are sure to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the sedative used.
The planned executions of Mr. Lockett, 38, and Mr. Warner, 46, dramatized the growing tension nationally over secrecy in lethal injections as drug companies, saying they are fearful of political and even physical attack, refuse to supply drugs, and many states scramble to find new sources and try untested combinations. Several states have imposed secrecy on the suppliers of lethal injection drugs, leading to court battles over due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.Faced with shortages, Oklahoma and other states have turned to compounding pharmacies — lightly regulated laboratories that mix up drugs to order. Opponents 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.Oklahoma later said it had found a federally approved manufacturer to provide the drugs for Tuesday’s executions, but refused to identify it.Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, derided the lawsuits over drug secrecy, calling them delaying tactics.
Elsewhere, Texas has refused to reveal where it obtained a new batch of compounded drugs; a challenge is before the State Supreme Court. Georgia passed a law last year making information about lethal drug suppliers a “confidential state secret”; a challenge is also pending in that state’s top court.
This month, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear suits attacking drug secrecy in Missouri and Louisiana.But three of the justices expressed interest, and the issue seems likely to be considered by the Supreme Court at some point, said Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University.
UPDATE: The outrage grows:
On Wednesday, the state faced an outcry and the White House condemned the execution as inhumane. Ms. Fallin defended the death penalty but ordered a thorough review of the state’s procedures for lethal injections. She promised an independent autopsy of Mr. Lockett, who had been sentenced for shooting a woman and burying her alive, and who died 43 minutes after the initiation of a procedure that was supposed to be quick and painless.Naturally, the get tough types are saying he "shoulda suffered like the victim even longer" and are pushing back, calling for more inhumane methods to be used.
“We started with hangings, then moved to electrocution in 1890 and to lethal gas in 1921, with the firing squad always around on the outskirts,” said Deborah W. Denno, a law professor at Fordham University and an expert in the history of lethal injections. “The move to lethal injection in 1977 was an effort to combat all the ills associated with other methods. Nevertheless, we’ve seen botch after botch.”
On social media, some people said they wished Mr. Lockett had suffered more, in keeping with what he did to his victim.
Advocates of the death penalty have long argued that moving to lethal injections was a mistake. Kent S. Scheidegger, legal director at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which favors the death penalty, said, “I have never liked the idea of medicalizing executions, where we have a procedure now requiring people who perform executions to have medical skills.”
If lethal injections are to continue, a government agency may eventually have to produce the drugs, Mr. Scheidegger said, because “the opponents are able to intimidate the private sellers.”