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.
Madeline Cohen, Warner’s attorney, said Lockett, 38, was essentially tortured to death and no more executions should be held in Oklahoma until “much more is known about tonight's failed experiment of an execution.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he was assigning investigators from his office to help with the review.
Before the execution, Pruitt disputed contentions that drugs for the lethal injection were experimental.
Tuesday was the first time Oklahoma used midazolam, a sedative, as the first element in its execution drug combination. There has been difficulty in getting execution drugs as some pharmaceutical companies have refused to provide them to states to conduct lethal injections.
“Those drugs to be used in the executions of Lockett and Warner — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — have been used by other states at other times in the lethal injection process,” Pruitt said.
Oklahoma was using 100 milligrams of midazolam, while Florida uses five times as much. Pruitt said medical testimony indicates 50 milligrams of the drug was sufficient for patients undergoing neurosurgery.
The Corrections Department will not release any medical details about Lockett’s execution until an autopsy and investigation are complete, said spokesman Jerry Massie.
Oklahoma law requires that all executions be accomplished through lethal injection unless this method is found unconstitutional, in which case executions could be done by electrocution, and if that was found unconstitutional, a firing squad could be used. The law could be changed through legislation.
Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the panel may now look into giving the Corrections Department more options in conducting executions, including the possibility of using a firing squad or the electric chair.
“This has raised enough issues that we should definitely look at not only giving the Department of Correction more options, but maybe giving the defendant options,” Stiles said. “We could say ‘Here are your three choices. Choose which one you think is the best.’
“It would be difficult to complain if he chooses the option.”
Background on cases
A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999. Neiman and a friend had interrupted the men as they robbed a home.
Warner had been scheduled to be executed two hours later, in what would have been the first time the state held two executions in one day since 1937. The 46-year-old was convicted of raping and killing his live-in girlfriend's 11-month-old daughter in 1997.
Lockett and Warner had sued the state for refusing to disclose details about the execution drugs, including where Oklahoma obtained them. The case, filed as a civil matter, placed at odds the state’s two highest courts, the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
The state Supreme Court initially granted a temporary stay of execution and then dismissed the stay. Before the dismissal, the governor said the court exceeded its authority and some Oklahoma legislators called for impeachment of court justices.