Oklahoma's Own Investigation Points to Only Minor Problems in Botched Execution

On September 4, Oklahoma released a report from its investigation into the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. The review, which was conducted by investigators from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, found several problems that may have contributed to the prolonged execution attempt on April 29. The execution was stopped by the warden, curtains were drawn in the chamber, but the inmate died afterwards, reportedly from the residues of the lethal drugs in his system. The state report found insufficient training of corrections officials, communication difficulties between those inside and outside the execution chamber, and a lack of contingency planning in case problems arose. The direct cause of the botched execution, according to the report, was the improper insertion of the IV, combined with the fact that the IV site was hidden from view and was not monitored throughout the execution process. The report offered eleven recommendations for future lethal injections, including observation of the IV insertion point, ongoing training for the execution team, established contingency plans and backup execution supplies in case of problems, and improved communications. Dale Baich, an attorney for Lockett, said, “The state’s internal investigation raises more questions than it answers. The report does not address accountability. It protects the chain of command. Once the execution was clearly going wrong, it should have been stopped, but it wasn’t. Whoever allowed the execution to continue needs to be held accountable.”

(M. Berman, “Oklahoma investigation into botched execution finds problems with IV insertion, training of execution team,” Washington Post, September 4, 2014). Read the Oklahoma Report. See Lethal Injection and Botched Executions.

QUOTATIONS FROM THE OKLAHOMA REPORT:

  • The physician had never attempted femoral vein access with a 11⁄4 inch needle/catheter; however, it was the longest DOC had readily available. An additional central venous catheterization kit was available, but the physician did not think about utilizing one for femoral access.
  • The physician approached Lockett and indicated to Warden Trammell that something was wrong. He looked under the sheet and recognized the IV had infiltrated. At this same time, Warden Trammell viewed what appeared to be a clear liquid and blood on Lockett’s skin in the groin area. The physician observed an area of swelling underneath the skin and described it as smaller than a tennis ball, but larger than a golf ball. The physician believed the swelling would have been noticeable if the access point had been viewed during the process.
  • Warden Trammell and Director Patton both acknowledged the training DOC personnel received prior to the execution was inadequate. Warden Trammell stated the only training she received was on-the-job training and that DOC had no formalized training procedures or processes concerning the duties of each specific position’s responsibility. The warden and director both indicated DOC had no training protocols or contingency plans on how to proceed with an execution if complications occur during the process.
  • General Counsel Mullins further told Director Patton that they would begin preparing a stay at the direction of the Governor. Lockett died prior to the order for a stay being relayed to the personnel inside the execution chamber. There was conversation inside the chamber about administering life-saving measures to Lockett, including transporting him to the emergency room, but no order was given.