Fordham Law


Outside autopsy finds failed IV in botched US execution

Deborah Denno in Agence France-Presse, June 13, 2014

Media Source

Outside autopsy finds failed IV in botched US execution

Washington (AFP) - An independent autopsy investigating the botched execution of a US inmate found the medical team failed to set an IV multiple times and ultimately perforated a vein, a preliminary report showed.

Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer and rapist, was put to death in Oklahoma on April 29 using an untested three-drug protocol in a process that took 43 minutes, well over the expected time of a little over 10 minutes.

Authorities said Lockett, who was seen writhing in pain, bucking off the gurney and mumbling unintelligibly, ultimately died of a massive heart attack.

But after conducting an independent autopsy, forensic pathologist Joseph Cohen said he was unable to confirm a heart attack "played any role in Mr Lockett's death."

Cohen observed bruising and punctures on the arms, legs and near the femoral artery, indicating multiple failed attempts to set an IV.

The doctor also observed "vascular injury" suggesting the IV line that was eventually used to administer the drugs perforated the vein.

Officials also cited a "vein failure" early on into the execution process, and said even though all three drugs were administered, "the drugs didn't go into his system."

Nonetheless, Lockett's body had displayed "excellent integrity of peripheral and deep veins for the purpose of achieving venous access," Cohen wrote.

Lethal injection expert and Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno denounced the execution team's "extraordinary incompetence."

"This type of incompetence by execution teams has existed for decades and it is all the more reason to lift the heavy veil of secrecy concerning executions," she added.

But lawyer Megan McCracken, with the UC Berkeley Law School's Death Penalty Clinic, said the three-drug cocktail also "exacerbated the pain and suffering that Mr Lockett faced by needlessly paralyzing him and subjecting him to the pain of potassium chloride."

"Moreover, the state had no plan for contingencies in the event that the execution did not go as planned, as clearly happened here," she said in a statement.

Lockett's gruesome death prompted officials in Oklahoma to temporarily halt executions and review its lethal injection drug protocols, amid harsh criticism from human rights and anti-death penalty advocates.

President Barack Obama warned that the "deeply troubling" incident raised "significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied."