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Chaos in the Execution Chamber: Witness Recounts Botched Killing that Caused Okla. Prisoner’s Fatal Heart Attack

"He began writhing, lifting his shoulders up off the gurney and his head up off the gurney. He was clenching his jaw, exhaling."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: An Oklahoma prisoner who was supposed to be executed Tuesday night died instead of a massive heart attack after his lethal injection was botched. Clayton Lockett was injected with an untested cocktail of lethal drugs. After struggling violently on the gurney, doctors halted the killing 13 minutes in, when discovering Lockett was still conscious and trying to speak. Doctors say he suffered a ruptured vein, interrupting the flow of the lethal drugs. About 30 minutes after that point, Lockett died of a heart attack when the drugs had spread through his body. Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton described what happened.

ROBERT PATTON: As those that were inside witnessed, it was determined that he was sedated at approximately seven minutes into the execution. At that time, we began pushing the second and third drugs in the protocol. There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having the effect, so the doctor observed the line and determined that the line had blown. After conferring with the warden, and unknown how much drugs had went into him, it was my decision at that time to stop the execution. I notified the attorney general’s office, the governor’s office of my intent to stop the execution, and requested a stay for 14 days for the second execution scheduled this afternoon. At approximately 7:06 hours, inmate suffered what appears to be a massive heart attack and passed away.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton. The botched killing of Clayton Lockett forced officials to cancel the execution of another prisoner, Charles Warner. Both Lockett and Warner were convicted of murder. They each won a stay of execution earlier this month after challenging the secrecy of their execution drugs. But the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the decision last week after Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin objected and state lawmakers threatened their removal from the bench. Warner’s execution has now been delayed for 14 days pending a review of execution procedures.

AMY GOODMAN: Clayton Lockett’s execution was second—was the second one botched this year in the United States. In January, an Ohio prisoner named Dennis McGuire was executed using an untested two-drug method. He made snorting and gasping sounds before he died, prompting his family to file a civil rights lawsuit and a call for a death penalty moratorium. Tuesday was the first time since 1937 that two men were set to be executed on the same day in Oklahoma since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, although it’s happened in other states. The last double execution was in Texas in 2000.

For more, we go directly to Tulsa via  Democracy Now! video stream, where we’re joined by Ziva Branstetter. She’s the enterprise editor at the  Tulsa World. She was one of 12 media witnesses to attend the botched execution Tuesday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Ziva, I understand this is just hours after you have experienced what has to be extremely upsetting. And I was wondering, as you wrote up this minute-by-minute account of what you saw, could you start at the beginning, even before the execution began, what you heard in the prison as you walked to the execution chamber?

ZIVA BRANSTETTER: Well, typically inmates will bang on their cells before an execution, for most inmates who are being executed, unless it’s an inmate that none of the other inmates like. And so, we heard a lot of clanging and banging on the cell doors before we were let into the execution chambers.

AMY GOODMAN: And then describe what happened once you got to the execution chamber, and set the scene for us—where you are, where the prisoner who’s about to be executed is, how you can see him.

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