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Oklahoma governor halts executions while officials review botched lethal injection

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday the state will hold no further executions until a thorough review is completed into a botched lethal injection that has drawn worldwide attention.
by Rick Green Modified: April 30, 2014 at 10:26 pm •  Published: May 1, 2014

Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday the state will hold no further executions until a thorough review is completed into a botched lethal injection that has drawn worldwide attention.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson will lead the effort to find out why the Tuesday evening execution of convicted killer Clayton Lockett went wrong and what improvements can be made.

Lockett writhed, grimaced and tried to move his head after drugs were administered and at a time when he was supposed to already be unconscious. The execution was called off, but he ended up dying, apparently of a heart attack, 43 minutes after the lethal injection began.

Fallin postponed the execution of a second man, Charles Warner, who was also supposed to be executed Tuesday night. The new execution date for Warner is May 13, but the governor said she would extend the stay if the review takes longer.

The state’s unusual plan to execute two men in one night and a legal battle over the drugs to be used had already boosted interest in this case. When the execution went bad, media outlets from around the world carried the story, and the White House even weighed in with criticism.

Death penalty opponents called for an independent review not connected with state government.

“I can’t imagine a bigger debacle for the state of Oklahoma,” said state Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City. “Nationally and internationally we are on the stage right now and the world is looking to us, the eyes of the world are on us as to how we are going to resolve the issues that are here before us today.”

The governor said Warner and Lockett had their day in court and that the death penalty was warranted in those cases.

“I believe in the legal process,” Fallin said. “And I believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for those who commit heinous crimes against their fellow men and women. However, I also believe the state needs to be certain that its protocols and procedures for executions work.”

The review is also to determine Lockett’s cause of death.

Autopsy is halted

The state medical examiner’s office was starting an autopsy on Lockett in Tulsa on Wednesday morning and some blood already had been drawn when the governor’s office acted to halt the procedure so an independent pathologist could be brought in to handle the case, said Alex Weintz, Fallin’s spokesman. The surgical part of the autopsy had not begun.

State Corrections Department officials said a complication occurred with Lockett’s execution when one of his veins collapsed while he was being given the deadly drugs. They declined to release further details Wednesday.

An autopsy and toxicology tests presumably would yield information about this vein and the amount of drugs that made it into his system.

Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said the process of finding an independent pathologist to handle the case was underway.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said in response to a question at his daily briefing that the death penalty, when used, must be carried out humanely.

“And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard,” he said.

The ACLU of Oklahoma joined in the call for a moratorium on executions until an investigation not tied to state government was held. Johnson said she would introduce legislation to that effect.

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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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