McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma prison officials halted an inmate's execution after a new drug combination left the man writhing and clenching his teeth on the gurney. He later died of a heart attack.
Clayton Lockett, 38, was 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, writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.
The blinds were eventually lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening in the death chamber, and the state's top prison official eventually called a halt to the proceedings. Lockett died of a heart attack a short time later, the Department of Corrections said.
"It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched," said Lockett's attorney, David Autry.
The problems with the execution 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. That question has 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.