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Drugs killed Oklahoma inmate in troubled execution

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 28, 2014 at 5:59 pm •  Published: August 28, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma death row inmate who writhed, moaned and clenched his teeth before he was pronounced dead about 43 minutes after his execution began succumbed to the lethal drugs he was administered, not a heart attack, after the state's prisons chief halted efforts to kill him, an autopsy report released Thursday says.

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton had said inmate Clayton Lockett died from a heart attack about 10 minutes after he ordered the execution stopped. It hadn't been clear whether all three execution drugs administered to Lockett had actually made it into his system, but the independent autopsy performed for the state determined they did.

Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences at Dallas, which performed the autopsy, concluded that the cause of death was "judicial execution by lethal injection." But the report does not answer why the execution took so long and why Lockett writhed on the gurney.

Lockett's attorney, David Autry of Oklahoma City, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. But Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Phoenix, who represents a group of Oklahoma death row prisoners who commissioned an independent autopsy of Lockett, said more information is needed.

"What this initial autopsy report does not appear to answer is what went wrong during Mr. Lockett's execution," Baich said in a statement.

Oklahoma and other death penalty states have encountered problems in recent years obtaining lethal injection chemicals after major drugmakers stopped selling them for use in executions. That has forced states to find alternative drugs, purchased mostly from loosely regulated pharmacies that custom-make medications. Many states refuse to name suppliers and offer no details about how the drugs are tested or how executioners are trained.

Oklahoma put executions on hold after Lockett's April 29 execution.

Officials at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester have said Lockett's vein collapsed during the lethal injection process. The autopsy does not say whether that's the case, though it does confirm that medical technicians poked him about 12 times as they tried to find a vein before settling on using one in his groin.

Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered public safety officials to review the events surrounding Lockett's execution, including state execution protocols that had been changed in the weeks ahead of it. The state Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to not schedule executions for six months. Three are set for November and December.

A spokesman for Fallin, Alex Weintz, said the autopsy report will be part of the full review. "We suspect they are in the final stages of that process," Weintz said.

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