Even after the state Corrections Department released a timeline of Tuesday’s botched execution, it is still unclear who made the final call to execute Clayton Derrell Lockett when only one viable vein was found for his lethal injection.
Lockett’s execution was hidden from witnesses 16 minutes after it began, when his body convulsed and tensed and he mumbled unintelligibly. State Corrections Department Director Robert Patton released a timeline of the events Thursday, including a limited description of what happened once the curtain was closed in the execution chamber and press were asked to leave.
According to the timeline, a phlebotomist was unable to find a usable vein for the IVs in either of Lockett’s arms, legs or feet. An IV was finally placed in his groin area.
State Corrections Department protocol calls for one IV in each arm to administer the lethal drugs, but there’s nothing outlined in state death penalty protocol for what to do if a vein fails.
Richard Dieter, director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington, D.C., said using two veins is essentially overkill, but it is a practice put in place as an insurance plan. Two veins are used so if one collapses, the second can still be used to pump drugs into the offender.
Dieter said many states have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Some states have laws allowing them to inject the drugs directly into muscle tissue if an IV fails. He said he was surprised to learn the state went forward with the execution with only one vein and no contingency, especially given Oklahoma’s extensive history with lethal injections.
“I mean, they (Oklahoma) are the initiators of lethal injection law and carried out many executions before,” Dieter said. “And, just by the minute-by-minute description, you’re waiting for someone to say ‘it’s time to go to our other plan, our back-up, or the doctor is now inserting a new line into the other leg or arm...’ It’s just unimaginable in an operating room that eyes aren’t on these critical steps and that code B or whatever (isn’t) ready just in case.”
Oklahoma was the first state to pass a law allowing lethal injection with the three-drug cocktail, and the state performed the first lethal injection in the United States in 1990.
The Oklahoman reached out to Gov. Mary Fallin’s office to ask if the governor was informed there was only one IV in place and no contingency before the execution began, but that question was deferred to the state Corrections Department and state Public Safety Department Commissioner Michael Thompson, who also witnessed Lockett’s execution.
The Oklahoman sent this and a series of other questions to the state Corrections Department.
A spokesman for Thompson replied by email, saying, “I will respectfully decline to answer detailed questions during the course of the investigation. Please allow time for our team to complete their review and we may revisit these questions upon completion.”
Dieter said no matter what the state’s investigation shows, the first drug used, Midazolam, remains untested. He added it hasn’t been determined if, even with a good vein, Oklahoma knows how to use it to carry out an execution.
“You can’t call that a successful experiment,” Dieter said.