Faced with growing opposition to the death penalty, particularly abroad, state prison authorities have had a hard time obtaining drugs from reputable manufacturers that can be used to paralyze an inmate and stop his heart. Instead, they have devised new and untested combinations of drugs. When defense lawyers have objected and sought more information on the drugs, states such as Oklahoma have adopted laws forbidding the disclosure of details about the drugs and their manufacturers. Twice this year, the Supreme Court has turned away appeals seeking to block an execution on the grounds the condemned inmate and his lawyer had a right to know more about the drugs to be used in a lethal injection.
But in late February, three justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — dissented in a Missouri case and said they would have stopped the execution. Lawyers said they feared their client would suffer searing pain from chemicals if he was not properly sedated. They pointed to a series of recent executions that went badly, according to observers.
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In the case of Lockett and another Oklahoma inmate, Charles F. Warner, 46, who had also been scheduled for execution Tuesday, state officials provided assurances in court that their lethal-injection methods had "been vetted and approved by federal courts in various jurisdictions.
The botched execution, experts and death penalty opponents said, has substantially damaged the credibility of those officials' arguments and possibly even similar arguments for officials in other states. Legal analysts said the lack of public disclosure on the ingredients in lethal injections could provide a basis for new federal appeals.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma is arguing that even if the Supreme Court expressly rules that new lethal-injection drugs are constitutional, a case could be made that concealing the means of execution could in itself represent cruel and unusual punishment — particularly after this week's incident. So the courts will have an opportunity to consider the issue, if they take it. Fallin said Wednesday that she had ordered an independent review into the state's execution policies and the cause of Lockett's death, but opponents quickly questioned the governor's decision to appoint her own commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to lead the review, in conjunction with investigators from the state attorney general's office.
Whether state officials will pursue further executions in Oklahoma is unclear. Warner received a two-week reprieve, which his attorney called insufficient. Warner and his family in a two-week holding pattern," said Warner's attorney, Madeline Cohen. Skip to content. Two days after saying that it would need a long and proper debate in order to determine the constitutionality of the secrecy law, the court issued a decision: the law was fine.
The stay was lifted. The national media went into a frenzy.
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It seemed as though everyone with even a fleeting interest in the Oklahoma justice system had come to the penitentiary. Everyone except Governor Fallin. At p. Like the three executioners, she would remain anonymous. But first she had a job to do: prepare the drugs and medical equipment, and get an IV into Lockett. Those who participated in the execution either did not respond to requests for interviews or could not be reached.
Court records provide a detailed account of what happened. And she knew the media were watching. To make matters worse, the equipment was all wrong: the saline was packed in bags instead of syringes, the drugs were in syringes that looked smaller than she was used to, and the tubing for the IV was the wrong kind. But she tried to focus on doing her job and getting everything set up on time. It meant the needle was in the vein.
She asked someone to bring it to her, but the IV slipped out before she could secure it. No luck there. So she asked the doctor to help. The doctor, Johnny Zellmer, was a last-minute substitute. Zellmer, whose name was revealed in a lawsuit following the execution and in multiple press reports, has not denied his involvement. He did not respond to requests for comment. But Zellmer thought his job would be limited to checking the offender for consciousness and pronouncing the time of death. She was clearly struggling, though.
Then Lockett turned his head, and the paramedic saw a vein in his neck pop up. She pointed it out to Zellmer. This was an odd choice. IVs in the neck are painful, and also hard to place. On the arms and legs, you can use a tourniquet to bring the veins up. You cannot do that on the neck, because a tourniquet on the neck is effectively a noose, and while this was an execution, it was not a hanging. As Zellmer tried to get the needle into the jugular, the paramedic stuck Lockett three more times on his right arm, failing each time. The paramedic went to get a longer needle. As the warden, Anita Trammell, watched the doctor and the paramedic work on Lockett, she felt a sliver of pride for the inmate.
She knew he was in pain, but she thought he was taking it like a man. Trammell tried to make conversation to help calm him. She knew he had been a drug user. The paramedic came back and said she had no needles longer than an inch and a quarter. That presented a problem. The femoral vein lies deeper in the body than other veins, so they would ideally use a needle at least twice that length. Zellmer asked for an IO-infusion needle. The prison had no IO needle. Zellmer had only the absurdly short one-and-a-quarter-inch needle. Finally, after almost an hour, they had an IV.
Right away, the paramedic noticed a potential warning sign. Saline should have been flowing easily through the IV, but it flowed only when she propped up the line. Instead of starting over, though, she taped the IV in place. Two IVs are typically used to administer the drugs, but with the execution running way behind schedule, the doctor and the paramedic decided they would proceed with just one. Warden Trammell asked Lockett whether he needed anything. She got a Kleenex and wiped it for him.
Finally, a sheet was draped over Lockett, covering him up to his chest. The execution could begin. His stepmother, LaDonna Hollins, had made the drive to the prison countless times. During her final visit, she and Lockett had sat looking at each other and crying. Because the drugs that they use have not been tested. Lockett was scared. Let the world know how they are executing people here in Oklahoma. Lockett had first shown up on her doorstep in Southern California at the age of 3, crying and soaked in urine. His mother had put him on a bus all the way from Oklahoma to live with his father.
Hollins testified in court that when Lockett was a young child, she saw his half brother, who was about five years older, lying on top of him, the two boys looking strange together. Then a call from the school. Lockett was in the infirmary. Another memory: Lockett following his father, John, from room to room as he got ready for work, and then following him out of the house, into the street. Lockett in tears, certain that his father would never return. Once, as a birthday present for his brother John Jr.
But she took offense when John Jr.
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John Sr. Hollins remembers John Sr. By the time Lockett was in middle school, his father and Hollins had brought him back to Oklahoma. To his eighth-grade teacher—a woman whose son, Mark Gibson, would later prosecute him—he stood out as smart and likable. Lockett brightened around small children.
He babysat younger family members, liked to cook for them, and carried them around on his back. He had a girlfriend whose baby had Down syndrome, and he was the only person who could always make the little girl smile. But he also spent a lot of time trying to act tough, and racked up charges including burglary and intimidating a witness. At 16, he was sentenced as an adult and sent to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. With no one to protect him, he was raped almost immediately by three other inmates.
When Lockett got out, at age 20, he wanted to be feared. Neiman was an only child whose parents had instilled in her a strong sense of right and wrong. Neiman reacted in a way that unsettled Lockett: she seemed unafraid. He told her to hand over the keys to her truck. She said no—the truck belonged to her. But Neiman refused. Her parents had taught her to tell the truth. So when Lockett asked whether she would go to the police, she said yes. Lockett asked her a final time.
Then he raised the gun and fired. Twenty-three minutes behind schedule, the blinds to the death chamber opened. Warden Trammell stood facing the witnesses. She asked Lockett whether he had any last words. But not all of it went straight into his bloodstream. Some of the drug would make its way into his bloodstream, but the smaller dose would be less effective. To Katie Fretland, he looked confused. Several more minutes passed. Lockett turned his head and looked toward the witnesses. He looked back up.
Finally, he closed his eyes. In the chemical room, the executioners counted time on a stopwatch. Five minutes after they pushed the midazolam into the line, they flipped a switch and a light bulb went on in the death chamber, signaling that it was time to check whether Lockett was unconscious. Zellmer got up and checked Lockett. He was still conscious. The light went off. Two minutes later, the light came on again—a signal to check Lockett a second time. This time, he determined that Lockett was unconscious. The executioners injected a syringe full of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, into the line.
When properly administered, vecuronium bromide blocks the signals that the nervous system sends to the muscles, turning the body into a vehicle the brain no longer controls. An incompletely sedated person under a paralytic might look serene, because his face muscles are paralyzed. The Animal Welfare Act has banned the use of paralytics without anesthesia in the euthanasia of animals. To anti-death-penalty advocates, the fact that these drugs are used in executions is revealing.
If the sedative worked, why would you need to paralyze someone? He had no way of knowing that he might be injecting fluid into tissue, though, so he simply pushed harder. He heard what sounded like a moan come from the chamber. Zellmer watched Lockett, oblivious to the fact that, under the sheet, the IV was not in place. In the chemical room, the executioners administered the third drug, potassium chloride. In his letters, he posed as a member of a far-reaching criminal network. Fucc No! He was a terror, hiding homemade weapons in his cell and once throwing urine and excrement at a guard—anything he could do to show his disdain for authority.
But in letters to his father, now also in prison, Lockett still yearned for a bond. He told his father about a girlfriend on the outside. Gradually, the weight of his crime began to overwhelm him. A couple of years in, he tried to kill himself. After that, he took to all the prison self-improvement pastimes: reading, painting, philosophy.
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Autry lent him books, and Lockett became the most well-read client the attorney had ever had. When the time came for a clemency hearing before the pardon-and-parole board—one of his last chances for survival—Lockett declined to show up. The truth is not so simple as that. To Warden Trammell , it looked as though Lockett was trying to communicate something. He kicked his right leg. He began to breathe heavily. He clenched his teeth. He rolled his head. Then he tried to speak. Lockett lurched up against the restraints. While the witnesses looked on, he started writhing as if trying to free himself, to get up off the gurney.
He struggled violently, twisting his whole body. Lockett got his whole head up off the gurney, as far as the restraints would let him go. Zellmer watched the monitor. The normal resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and beats per minute.
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From the waves on the screen, it looked like his heart muscles were starting to fire erratically. The doctor thought Lockett might be starting to seize. But he still felt uncertain of his role, and hesitated to intervene. Zellmer had seen enough. He came to the gurney and lifted the sheet. Another witness saw Lockett open his eyes and look right at the doctor, like something out of a horror movie. Blood squirted all over Zellmer, so much of it that it soaked his jacket.
Did he intend to put drugs in an artery? The doctor pulled out the needle. Lockett mumbled incoherently. His heart rate dropped into the teens as more of the potassium chloride that had been pumped into his groin seeped into his bloodstream. Eventually, the doctor and the paramedic stopped what they were doing. The warden asked whether it would be possible to resuscitate Lockett. This further confused the paramedic. After the blinds came down, prison staff took them to a rec room and tried to console them.
Fretland and the other reporters felt almost as stunned. Robert Patton, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections director, picked it up and left the room, pulling the phone cord out into the hall and closing the door behind him. Warden Trammell was calling from the death chamber. He heard the doctor say no. A third time, the answer was no. When they hung up, Mullins called the governor—the basketball game was now an hour from tip-off—to brief her.
At , a call came in to the death chamber. Patton had instructions for the warden. Ten minutes later , at p. He had been dying amidst all the chaos, just very slowly and in apparent agony. Two separate autopsies were conducted. The pathologists also found that the amount of midazolam that had made it into his bloodstream should have been enough to render him fully unconscious. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections declined to grant interviews for this article, citing the pending litigation. In July, Arizona used midazolam in the execution of Joseph Wood. He took nearly two hours to die, and witnesses reported that he gasped throughout.
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