McALESTER, Okla. — As Clayton D. Lockett writhed and groaned on the gurney Tuesday night after a large dose of sedatives had apparently not been fully delivered, the Oklahoma chief of corrections rushed to call the governor and attorney general. Something had gone disastrously wrong with the lethal injection, he told them, and the execution of a second man must be delayed. Governor Mary Fallin instantly agreed.
On Wednesday, the state faced an outcry and the White House condemned the execution as inhumane. Fallin defended the death penalty but ordered a thorough review of the state’s procedures for lethal injections. She promised an independent autopsy of Lockett, who had been sentenced for shooting a woman and burying her alive, and who died 43 minutes after the initiation of a procedure supposed to be quick and painless.
Fallin said the execution of Charles F. Warner, originally also planned for Tuesday, will be delayed until May 13 or later, but added, “His fellow Oklahomans have sentenced him to death, and we expect that sentence to be carried out.”
Lockett’s lawyer said the governor’s vow of an investigation fell short because the task was given to the state’s public safety commissioner.
Medical and legal specialists said the sequence of events in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary raised serious concerns about the methods the state uses for executions and the medical training of those who carry them out.
At issue in Oklahoma and other states is the secrecy imposed on the sources of lethal drugs, making it impossible for defendants to know whether untested combinations may cause suffering barred by the Constitution.
Groups opposed to the death penalty called for an immediate moratorium on executions in Oklahoma. “In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world,” said Ryan Kiesel, director of the Oklahoma branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
State officials said the drug cocktail had not been at fault. Rather, they said, the intravenous needles had apparently damaged Lockett’s veins, reducing the amount of drugs entering his bloodstream.
Some wondered why an attending doctor had prematurely pronounced Lockett unconscious and how a blown intravenous line could have gone undetected for so long.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the episode had been inhumane.
“We have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely,” Carney said, noting that President Obama approved of the death penalty in some instances. “I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.”
The execution of Lockett seemed at first to be proceeding normally. When witnesses first saw him through windows, he was strapped onto a gurney with a sheet covering his body. A technician had placed an intravenous line, emerging from a wall, in each arm, with the locations covered by the sheet.
At 6:23 p.m., the warden, Anita Trammell, asked Lockett if he had any last words — he did not — and called out, “Let the execution begin.” That was a signal to begin pumping a sedative, midazolam, which the state had not used before, into both of Lockett’s arms.
Lockett started blinking, his eyes glassy, and after a few minutes they closed, said Dean Sanderford, one of his lawyers.
The warden announced, “Mr. Lockett is unconscious.”
Minutes later, things went visibly wrong. Lockett twitched and mumbled, witnesses said, then began writhing and trying to raise his upper body.
Sixteen minutes into the execution, the rattled warden pulled the blinds and the sound link was turned off.
Ten minutes later, Robert Patton, the director of corrections, told witnesses that the execution was being aborted because “we’ve had a vein failure in which the chemicals did not make it into the offender.”
At 7:06 p.m., officials said, Lockett died of a heart attack.
More coverage: What was used in botched Oklahoma execution | What botched executions tell us about the death penalty| Oklahoma man dies of heart attack after botched execution | N.H. Senate rejects bid to repeal death penalty