OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The execution of an inmate who writhed, clenched his teeth and appeared to struggle before prison officials halted the procedure fell short of the humane standards required when the death penalty is carried out, the White House said Wednesday. The man later died of an apparent heart attack.
Oklahoma officials were conducting an autopsy on Clayton Lockett, who convulsed violently and tried to lift his head after a doctor declared him unconscious. Prison officials halted the execution, in which the state was using a new drug combination for the first time.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama believes evidence shows the death penalty doesn't effectively deter crime, but that some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty is merited.
But Carney says the U.S. has a fundamental standard that the death penalty must be carried out humanely. He said everyone would recognize that this case fell short.
Lockett had been declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of three drugs in the state's new lethal injection combination was administered Tuesday evening. Three minutes later, he began breathing heavily, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head. Officials later blamed a ruptured vein for the problems with the execution, which are likely to fuel more debate about the ability of states to administer lethal injections that meet the U.S. Constitution's requirement they be neither cruel nor unusual punishment.
The blinds eventually were lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening in the death chamber, and the state's top prison official later called a halt to the proceedings. Lockett died of a heart attack shortly thereafter, the Department of Corrections said.
"It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched," said Lockett's attorney, David Autry.
Questions about execution procedures have drawn renewed attention from defense attorneys and death penalty opponents in recent months, as several states scrambled to find new sources of execution drugs because drugmakers that oppose capital punishment — many based in Europe — have stopped selling to U.S. prisons and corrections departments.
Defense attorneys have unsuccessfully challenged several states' policies of shielding the identities of the source of their execution drugs. Missouri and Texas, like Oklahoma, have both refused to reveal their sources and both of those states have carried out executions with their new supplies.
Tuesday was the first time Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam as the first element in its execution drug combination. Other states have used it before; Florida administers 500 milligrams of midazolam as part of its three-drug combination. Oklahoma used 100 milligrams of that drug.
"They should have anticipated possible problems with an untried execution protocol," Autry said.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a 14-day stay of execution for inmate Charles Warner, who was scheduled to die two hours after Lockett. She also ordered the state's Department of Corrections to conduct a "full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening's execution."
Warner's attorney, Madeline Cohen, demanded the investigation be conducted by an independent third-party entity, not the Department of Corrections.