April 30, 2014 10:51:21 AM
McALESTER, Okla. -- A botched execution that used a new drug combination left an Oklahoma inmate writhing and clenching his teeth on the gurney Tuesday, leading prison officials to halt the proceedings before the inmate's eventual death from a heart attack.
Clayton Lockett, 38, was declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of the state's new three-drug lethal injection combination was administered. Three minutes later, though, 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 prisons and corrections departments.
Defense attorneys have unsuccessfully challenged several states' policies of shielding the identities of the new sources of their execution drugs. Missouri and Texas, like Oklahoma, have both refused to reveal their sources, but both of those states have since successfully carried out executions with their new supplies.
Tuesday was the first time Oklahoma used the drug 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.
A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999 after Neiman and a friend arrived at a home the men were robbing.