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Botched lethal injection in Oklahoma: Independent autopsy finds IV was not set properly

An independent autopsy on Clayton Lockett, who died in a botched execution in Oklahoma, shows those performing the lethal injection failed to set a properly functioning intravenous line in his groin.
by Rick Green and Graham Lee Brewer Modified: June 13, 2014 at 11:26 pm •  Published: June 13, 2014

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.”

Previously published stories about the botched execution of Clayton Darnell Lockett:

>>Read: Oklahoma GOP lawmaker eyes firing squad option (Published June 10, 2014)

>>Read: Executed inmate's body returned to Oklahoma without all organs (Published June 10, 2014)

>>Read: Oklahoma corrections board takes no action on execution probe (Published June 5, 2014)

>>Read: Botched execution: Autopsy portion of Oklahoma inquiry into problematic lethal injection likely to take two to three months (Published May 2, 2014)

>>Read: Oklahoma Corrections Department timeline from Clayton Lockett execution (Published May 1, 2014)

>>Read: Convicted murderer was hit with Taser leading up to execution, report shows (Published May 1, 2014)

>>Read: Execution failure in Oklahoma: Clayton Lockett dies of heart attack after vein explodes (Published April 29, 2014)

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by Rick Green
Capitol Bureau Chief
Rick Green is the Capitol Bureau Chief of The Oklahoman. A graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., he worked as news editor for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City before joining The Oklahoman.
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by Graham Lee Brewer
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Graham Lee Brewer began his career as a journalist covering Oklahoma's vibrant music scene in 2006. After working as a public radio reporter for KGOU and then Oklahoma Watch, where he covered areas such as immigration and drug addiction, he went...
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