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New autopsy report finds Oklahoma at fault for botched execution

An entrance to Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where inmate Clayton Lockett died in a botched execution by lethal injection, in McAlester, Okla., April 30, 2014. (Photo by Nick Oxford/New York Times/Redux)
An entrance to Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where inmate Clayton Lockett died in a botched execution by lethal injection, in McAlester, Okla., April 30, 2014.

Convicted murderer Clayton Lockett’s botched execution went horribly awry because the Oklahoma execution team charged with taking his life failed to properly place an IV in Lockett’s groin, according to an independent new autopsy report released this morning.

These findings run counter to the state’s claim that Lockett’s veins collapsed or were blown out when a lethal combination of drugs were pumped into his groin in late April. According to the autopsy report, the execution team opted for the riskier femoral vein in Lockett's groin rather than other, easier-to-access veins.

The autopsy report, released by forensic pathologist Joseph I. Cohen, adds further fuel to a broader national debate burning across death penalty states regarding the efficacy of state drug combinations and drug protocols. Advocates have campaigned for what they believe would be more humane and ethical manners of carrying out prisoner executions.

During Lockett’s botched execution on April 29, he reportedly writhed in pain, eventually dying of a heart attack. The fallout from Lockett's death was almost immediate, firing off another volley in the fight over state-sanctioned killings. The backlash over his death even included a chiding by the White House, with a spokesman saying Lockett's execution“fell short” of humane standards

“Lack of transparency is a pervasive problem with execution procedures,” Megan McCracken, an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law, said in a statement

McCracken said that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections closed the blinds to the execution chamber as things went terribly wrong with Lockett’s lethal injection, blocking the view of witnesses and the press. Those blinds remained closed for 24 minutes, she said, before an announcement that Lockett was dead.

In all, it took Lockett about 43 minutes to die, according to reports.

“The improper placement of the IV used in Mr. Lockett’s execution is just one factor that caused his prolonged and painful death,” McCracken said.

Meanwhile, the state is conducting a review of its lethal injection policy and has placed a moratorium on all executions until the review is completed.

On Friday, a Georgia death row inmate filed a pair of lawsuits ahead of his execution scheduled for Tuesday, claiming that the state is using execution drugs obtained without a valid prescription and, in so doing, violating his civil rights.

Marcus Wellons, a convicted rapist and killer, said in his suits that Georgia officials planned on using the death drug pentobarbital outside of a doctor-patient relationship and said his rights were being violated because the state has not revealed to him the drug provider and ingredients of the cocktail they planned on using to kill him.

Wellons latter claim is at the heart of an appeal being used across the country as states, facing a scarcity of lethal injection drugs from federally regulated pharmacies, turn to the shadowy world of compounding pharmacies. Compounding pharmacies fall under the purview of states rather than the Federal Drug Administration, making them an attractive drug provider for death penalty states like Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

In other execution news, a federal judge on Thursday granted a Missouri death row inmate a stay of execution, saying that officials strong-armed a prison employee out of supporting the condemned man’s bid for clemency.

John Winfield, a convicted double-murderer was scheduled to die June 18.

"This 20-year corrections staff member was made to fear for his job when he wanted to tell the truth about Mr. Winfield’s remarkable rehabilitation and the positive good he will continue to do if his life is spared," Joseph Luby, Winfield’s lawyer, said in a statement.