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Oklahoma governor orders 'independent review' of execution

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin ordered an independent review of the botched execution, to be headed by Michael Thompson, a member of the governor's cabinet.
An entrance to Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where inmate Clayton Lockett died in a botched execution by lethal injection, in McAlester, Okla., April 30, 2014.
An entrance to Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where inmate Clayton Lockett died in a botched execution by lethal injection, in McAlester, Okla., April 30, 2014.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin ordered an independent review Wednesday into the death of inmate Clayton Lockett, whose botched execution earlier this week drew widespread condemnation. In a statement, the Republican announced she asked Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson, a member of the governor's cabinet, to lead the review of the state's execution procedures.

“I believe in the legal process. And I believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for those who commit heinous crimes against their fellow men and women," Gov. Fallin said in the statement. "However, I also believe the state needs to be certain that its protocols and procedures for executions work."

Critics are now questioning the independence of that review, which will be tasked with investigating the conduct of the Department of Corrections, another Oklahoma state agency staffed by Gov. Fallin's appointees. The review will not consider the governor's own actions leading up to the execution.

State Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who led the state's effort to conceal information about the drug cocktail used in Lockett's execution, announced he would assign his own investigators to the governor's review, according to The New York Times.

Gov. Fallin said she had not given the commissioner a deadline to complete the investigation, and that she would grant an additional stay of execution for Charles Warner, another death row inmate, if Thompson had not finished by May 13.

On Thursday, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton called for an indefinite delay in executions in the state, recommending a complete review and revision of execution protocols. "I intend to explore best practices from other states and ensure the Oklahoma protocol adopts proven standards," he wrote in a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican.

Previously, Fallin announced she would delay the execution of Charles Warner for 14 days while the state conducts an investigation into the lethal injection death of inmate Clayton Lockett, who reportedly gasped and writhed before ultimately dying of a heart attack about 45 minutes after the procedure began.

"It will take several days or possibly a few weeks to refine the new protocols," Patton wrote in the letter. "Once written, staff will require extensive training and understanding of new protocols before an execution can be scheduled. I recommend asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to issue an indefinite stay of execution."

Patton's letter to Fallin also filled in the timeline of events surrounding Lockett's execution, including moments after the blinds were lowered as Department of Corrections officials discovered the execution was not going according to plan. Lockett was found unconscious by doctors at 10 minutes after the initial drug was administered, but subsequently reanimated and began to move and twitch in the minutes afterwards.

According to Patton's letter, after the shades were lowered at 6:44 p.m., doctors checked Lockett's IV and discovered the "vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both." Patton and the warden discussed the patient's condition. At 6:56 p.m., the warden informed the Patton that Lockett still had a faint heartbeat, and there were not enough drugs to try to administer another lethal dose. Patton called off the execution.

Ten minutes later, a doctor pronounced Lockett dead. Subsequently doctors determined the ultimate cause of death was a heart attack.

The extended timeline also revealed details leading up to the execution. Lockett became aggressive with corrections officers early on the morning on the day of his execution, leading them to electrocute him with a taser. Over the course of the day, Lockett refused multiple meals and opportunities to meet with his attorney. He also refused to make a final statement before his execution began.

The phlebotomist tasked with finding the vein to administer the lethal drugs examined both of Lockett's legs and arms and determined none offered a "viable insertion point." Ultimately the phlebotomist chose to insert the IV into his groin, necessitating a sheet to prevent exposure to the viewing public. 

Patton also recommended an external investigation into Tuesday's botched execution that inspired his initial review. "While I have complete confidence in the abilities and integrity of my Inspector General and his staff, I believe the report will be perceived as more credible if conducted by an external entity," he wrote, vowing "full cooperation" from the Department of Corrections.

Read Patton's letter to Fallin below.