Last night in Oklahoma, a chaotic series of events led to the botched lethal injection of a prisoner.
Clayton D. Lockett, who was convicted of rape and murder in 1999, was one of two prisoners set to be executed by a new combination of drugs. Last night he was strapped on a table, administered the lethal injection drug, and then became unconscious. But 13 minutes later he woke up—witnesses say he began to convulse and have violent spasms. A doctor called a halt to the execution and Lockett later died, as was announced, of a massive heart attack.
Oklahoma, like other states in the country, have been facing shortages of lethal injection drugs and turning to compounding pharmacies to produce lethal injection cocktails. Critics say there is no quality control, and secrecy laws in these states allow the manufacturer of the drugs to remain anonymous.
See Also: 'Agony & Horror' in Ohio Execution
In March of of this year, an Oklahoma judge ruled that the secrecy law was unconstitutional—but did not have authority to stay the execution.
Then, just last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said it would delay the executions because of questions over the secrecy law. But the next day, Governor Mary Fallin ordered officials to carry out the execution, saying the court had overstepped its powers. Days later, under the threat of impeachment from state legislators, the judges on the court reversed the order to delay the execution and gave the execution the go-ahead.
The hardline taken by the courts and Oklahoma's governor may be overshadowed by Tuesday night’s bungled execution, which is certain to generate more challenges to lethal injection, long considered the most humane execution method.
Cary Aspinwall, an enterprise and investigative reporter with Tulsa World, has been following this story and weighs in on what happened and how the state will proceed.
Aspinwall says that the main issue currently surrounding this controversy is that the states have no way of testing these new lethal injection drug cocktails provided by compounding pharmacies. Companies that used to supply lethal injection drugs have since ceased because manufacturers no longer wanted to be associated with executions, or did not want their drugs, which were intended for things like surgery, to be used for lethal injections.
"The state of Oklahoma and others began to have difficulty obtaining the drugs, so they turned to other sources and other means," says Aspinwall. "That's how we ended up with the combination that was used last night. That specific dosage and combination, to our knowledge, had not been used in a U.S. execution before. Apparently, Florida uses something similar, but they have slightly different doses."
Aspinwall says the entire practice of lethal injection come into question because of a situation like this.
"There is no way to properly test these (drugs) first so the inmates end up being the guinea pigs," says Cary Aspinwall. "I've witnessed several executions in Oklahoma before with the previous combinations and this never happened. They went very smoothly, the person was obviously not in pain, they just went out, went to sleep and within 10 to 12 minutes were usually declared dead."
Oklahoma officials reportedly have stated that things went wrong because Lockett's vein collapsed, according to Aspinwall, but she remains skeptical.
"How do we know that until we test it out on another inmate?" she asks. Aspinwall says that Oklahoma ranks number one when it comes to the incarceration rate for women per-capita, and among the top five per-capita for men.
"Our politicians are very much tough on crime, and that's how the citizens want them to be," she says. "The majority of the citizens of Oklahoma support the death penalty, and they were supportive of these executions. We'll see what the reaction is to that in Oklahoma when people see how this went."