Fordham Law


Oklahoma authorities' errors led to botched execution - independent autopsy

Deborah Denno in The Voice of Russia, June 16, 2014

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Oklahoma authorities' errors led to botched execution - independent autopsy

Botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on April 29, that lasted 43 minutes and ended with the inmate dying of heart attack, sparked outrage across the US. At the time it was believed that the convicted murderer and rapist died of the previously untested three-drug mix. However, Lockett's lawyer wanted to verify the information and asked for an independent autopsy.

According to the preliminary results, released by the attorneys, forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph Cohen has come to a conclusion that it was not the drugs that killed the death row inmate. He found that the medical team was unable to locate the veins and failed to set an intravenous line multiple times. They ultimately nicked a vein meaning Lockett did not receive the full dose and the drugs had either absorbed into inmate's tissue or leaked out of his body.

At the time of the execution officials said that Lockett's veins collapsed preventing the drugs from getting into his system. However, Dr. Cohen believes that inmate's veins were in good condition. Lockett's body had displayed "excellent integrity of peripheral and deep veins for the purpose of achieving venous access," Cohen wrote.

Authorities said Lockett, who was seen writhing in pain, bucking off the gurney and mumbling unintelligibly, ultimately died of a massive heart attack. Dr. Cohen said he was unable to confirm a heart attack "played any role in Mr. Lockett's death."

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Lethal injection expert and Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno denounced the execution team's "extraordinary incompetence." That might be true considering that "the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Board of Anesthesiology, and the American Nurses Association all prohibit their members from assisting in executions, saying it violates their code of medical ethics," Thinkprogress points out. That means that lethal injections are not performed by trained professionals.

The person in charge of preparing Clayton Lockett for execution was a "phlebotomist" - an individual who is unlicensed, unregulated, and not specifically trained to insert IVs.

Next to be executed in the US is Marcus Wellons, a death row inmate in Georgia. If his execution goes forward as planned on Tuesday, Wellons will be the first inmate put to death since a botched execution in Oklahoma in April. Unlike Oklahoma, where a combination of midazolam, vercuronium bromide and potassium chloride was used, Georgia uses only one drug – the sedative pentobarbital – for executions.