An independent autopsy on Clayton Lockett, who died in a botched execution April 29, shows those performing the lethal injection failed to set a properly functioning intravenous line in his groin.
The autopsy was performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph Cohen on May 14 in Tulsa. Cohen was retained by attorneys for Oklahoma death row prisoners. Some details from that examination were released Friday.
The doctor found that Lockett’s veins were in good shape for taking an intravenous line. According to a timeline of the execution released by the state Corrections Department, a single IV was placed in a femoral vein in Lockett’s groin after no other viable veins could be found. Protocol normally calls for two IVs, one in each arm, to administer the lethal drugs.
Lockett’s body was first autopsied by the Dallas County medical examiner’s office as part of the state’s investigation into his execution, and the May 14 autopsy was the second performed on the body. In a June 10 interview, David Autry, Lockett’s defense attorney, told The Oklahoman the autopsy was incomplete because not all of Lockett’s organs had been returned.
“The heart and the larynx were not among the organs that were with the body when the second autopsy was done,” Autry said. “They’re with the medical examiner’s office in Dallas.”
Lockett’s defense attorneys plan to complete the autopsy before releasing all of their findings.
Cohen’s report found “the presence of vascular injury indicative of failed vascular catheter access,” hemorrhaging in deep tissue, and also disputed that Lockett died of a heart attack, as the state has explained.
“Using terminology that Mr. Lockett had some sort of spontaneous cardiac arrest is misleading, when the likelihood is that his heart stopped as a result of the administration of the potassium chloride,” said Megan McCracken, counsel at the Berkeley Law School’s Death Penalty Clinic.
Potassium chloride was one of the three drugs administered in Lockett’s execution. It is used in executions to stop the inmate’s heart. Midazolam, one of the other two drugs in Lockett’s mixture, had never before been used in Oklahoma.
The pathologist also said Lockett had other veins that were in “excellent integrity” and that it was unlikely dehydration would have “played a role in a failed or ineffective lethal injection procedure.”
The Corrections Department has said Lockett’s vein failed while the lethal drugs were being administered, causing them to stop his execution midway.
McCracken said no information on who inserted the IV has been released. She said it’s important to know whether or not that person had the medical training to administer that procedure.
“That’s not just a technical concern,” McCracken said. “The setting of a central line or a femoral IV is much more difficult. It’s a much more invasive and complicated procedure, and not just any medical person has the qualifications to do it.”
A spokesman Corrections Department declined to comment on the report or the qualifications of the medical professional who inserted the IV until the state’s investigation into the execution is complete.
Through an April 30 executive order, Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Michael Thompson, commissioner of the state Public Safety Department, to lead the investigation into what went wrong during Lockett’s execution.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Fallin, said the state’s investigation is ongoing, and the preliminary report released Friday is unofficial.
“It appears to re-enforce what we’ve known all along, which was there were problems administering the IV,” Weintz said.
Lockett writhed, grimaced and tried to move his head after drugs were administered and at a time when he was supposed to be unconscious. The execution was called off, but he ended up dying, apparently of a heart attack, 43 minutes after the lethal injection began.
Attorneys for Lockett complained of the potential for problems in the drug combination to be used in the execution. States have had trouble getting drugs for lethal injection from pharmaceutical companies reluctant to be involved in executions.
Lockett, 38, was convicted of shooting Stephanie Neiman, 19, and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in 1999.
His execution was supposed to the first of two conducted on the same day. The state called off the second execution, that of Charles Frederick Warner, 46, and has not held any more lethal injections pending the investigation into what went wrong.
Warner’s execution is now scheduled for Nov. 13.
Previously published stories about the botched execution of Clayton Darnell Lockett: