The three drugs used in a botched execution of convicted killer Clayton Derrell Lockett on Tuesday likely did not perform as intended, potentially leaving him “paralyzed and burning” until his death, one pharmacology expert said Wednesday.
“The drugs, as the order in which they’re given, serve two purposes: for one, it is to cause minimal pain and suffering to the person being executed, but two, it's also for the audience to not observe any distress in the person being executed because it can be interpreted being cruel,” pharmacologist David Kroll said.
State Corrections Department officials stopped the execution of convicted killer Clayton Derrell Lockett on Tuesday after a botched lethal injection that caused Lockett’s body to violently convulse. He died of a heart attack about 40 minutes later.
The lethal injection was one of two set for Tuesday evening. Charles Frederick Warner was scheduled to be executed at 8 p.m., but after the first procedure, Gov. Mary Fallin postponed Warner’s execution until an investigation is complete.
About 1,200 executions by lethal injection have been performed in the United States, including about 110 in Oklahoma, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a national non-profit organization that collects data regarding capital punishment.
What is a ‘blown vein’?
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections hasn’t released any further information clarifying what officials meant when they said Lockett’s vein “exploded,” or that he suffered a “blown vein.” Lockett’s autopsy report has not yet been released.
Dr. Bill Kinsinger, an Oklahoma City anesthesiologist, said a medical way to describe a “blown vein” would be to say “failure to achieve adequate IV access.”
Kinsinger, who has been an anesthesiologist for 22 years, said he was not present at the execution, but based on what he has read from media reports, he would suggest one of two things happened.
“Either the IV was never really adequate in the first place, or it is possible an adequate IV suffered some type of failure,” Kinsinger said. “I would say the first description is more likely than the last, ...but I would say those have equal possibility.”
This failure to attain adequate IV access happens from time to time in hospital and health care settings, and each hospital’s rate would vary, he said.
Oklahoma uses three drugs in its executions: midazolam to make the offender unconscious; vecuronium bromide to stop the offender’s breathing; and potassium chloride to stop the offender’s heart.
Kroll, a professor at North Carolina State University, taught medical students for about 10 years how the drugs used in Tuesday night’s execution were used for therapeutic medical purposes.
For example, midazolam, a drug used to sedate the offender being executed, is used in hospital settings as a conscious sedation anesthesia. The drug’s guidelines allow for up to 5 milligrams to be used, but that’s the maximum, Kroll said. Meanwhile, offenders being executed are given 50 milligrams in each arm.
Kroll said he assumed that Lockett got an incomplete dosage of the three drugs.
“I'm inclined to assume that one of the veins blew during the midazolam injection — he would've gotten a substandard dose of midazolam, mostly in only one arm, leaving him partly conscious. Then, the subsequent vecuronium and potassium chloride would’ve only gone in via one arm. So he would’ve been partly conscious of the (partial) respiratory paralysis and felt the burning and muscle effects of the partial potassium chloride overdose. That would explain the account that he ‘kicked his right leg and his head rolled to one side’ and then ‘began writhing and bucking’ as though he were trying to get up,” Kroll said, quoting media reports of what happened during the execution.
Kroll said some media outlets have reported that what happened Tuesday night was due, in part, to the “untested” or “secret” drug combination used.
“This is a key point — if there was an incomplete injection, if the vein blew with even the old time-tested combination, this kind of effect still would have happened,” Kroll said. “...I don't think it has to do so much with the drugs.”
Contributing: Staff Writer
Graham Lee Brewer