Clayton Lockett (pictured0, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary inmate who suffered a heart attack after a failed execution by lethal injection last April, was apparently the victim of a botched operation by the prison’s execution team. During an independent autopsy performed by a forensic pathologist in May, it was discovered that the team failed to administer the injection despite veins in Lockett’s arm being in excellent shape.
Dr. Joseph I. Cohen, M.D., performed the autopsy on May 14th, just weeks after the 38-year-old Lockett died on April 29th. The execution team attempted to insert an IV in to Lockett’s femoral vein unsuccessfully and apparently attempted to apply the needles in to his arms, according to Dr. Cohen’s report. The team tried to insert the IV on both sides of Lockett’s groin, and failed to set the IV in both of his arms, leaving behind “ skin punctures on the extremities and right and left femoral areas.
The state claimed that Lockett’s veins collapsed or “blew out,” but what Dr. Cohen asserts in the report is the team made numerous failed attempts to set the IV and essentially set an improperly placed IV in to the femoral vein. Dr. Cohen also ruled out dehydration as the reason why Lockett’s veins were found to be difficult to enter by the team.
Comments by an attorney from the Death Penalty Clinic at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law lay out the details of the team’s handling of the execution, which led to the heart attack that eventually killed him:
“The improper placement of the IV used in Mr. Lockett’s execution is just one factor that caused his prolonged and painful death,” said Megan McCracken, an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law. “The three-drug protocol that was used 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.”
There are also concerns of how properly trained personnel were regarding the execution. The Department of Corrections timeline revealed that the IV was applied by a phlebotomist and later confirmed by the state. When a local news outlet questioned the matter, the state reversed their statement and said that an unnamed EMT was the person to apply the femoral vein IV. According to the state’s execution protocol, a physician should have set the IV, and not a phlebotomist.
“Lack of transparency is a pervasive problem with execution procedures,” Ms. McCracken added in additional comments. “During Mr. Lockett’s execution, the Department of Corrections closed the blinds to the execution chamber so that the witnesses and press could not see what was happening for the 24 minutes leading up to the announcement that Mr. Lockett had died. Nothing is known about what happened during this time frame, and it is one of many questions Dr. Cohen seeks answers to in order to complete his independent autopsy.”
Dr. Cohen is seeking additional information to conclude his investigation. He has requested that the state’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office proved documents of tests and procedures, autopsy, toxicology, histology and other related reports from the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office, Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections polices regarding lethal injections, documents related to the Lockett execution, and other reports regarding Lockett’s treatment and health records prior to his death.
See Dr. Cohen’s preliminary findings here.