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Saturday 30 August 2014

Drugs leaked from IV line in botched Oklahoma execution

Failure not noticed for 21 minutes

Published 02/05/2014 | 13:53

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Clayton Lockett. Photo: Reuters
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SOME of the drugs used in a botched execution in Oklahoma did not enter the inmate's system because the vein they were injected into collapsed, and the failure was not noticed for 21 minutes, the state's prison chief said.

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Robert Patton urged changes to the state's execution procedure after the death of Clayton Lockett.

The execution has drawn intense scrutiny to the US death penalty system from around the world. On Tuesday the United Nations human rights office in Geneva said Lockett's execution could amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international human rights law.

A letter by written by Mr Patton to the state's governor detailing Lockett's last day described how medical officials tried for nearly an hour to find a vein in Lockett's arms, legs and neck before finally inserting an IV line into his groin.

By the time a doctor lifted a sheet covering the inmate and noticed the line had become dislodged from the vein, all of the execution drugs had been administered and there was not another suitable vein, the report said.

"The drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both," Mr Patton wrote. "The director asked the following question: 'Have enough drugs been administered to cause death?'. The doctor responded, 'No'."

At that time, Mr Patton halted the Tuesday night execution, but Lockett was pronounced dead of a heart attack 10 minutes later.

Oklahoma's execution rules call for medical personnel to immediately give emergency aid if a stay is granted while the lethal drugs are being administered, but it is not clear if that happened. The report does not say what occurred from when Mr Patton called off the execution at 6.56pm to Lockett being pronounced dead at 7.06pm.

A United Nations human rights office spokesman, Rupert Colville, said it was "the second case of apparent extreme suffering caused by malfunctioning lethal injections" reported in the United States this year, after Dennis McGuire's execution in Ohio on January 16 with an allegedly untested combination of drugs.

States have been scrambling to find new sources of drugs as several pharmaceutical companies, many based in Europe, have stopped selling to US prisons and corrections departments that conduct executions.

Mr Colville told reporters that "the apparent cruelty involved in these recent executions simply reinforces the argument that authorities across the United States should impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and work for abolition of this cruel and inhuman practice".

The Oklahoma report also indicated that on Lockett's last morning, he fought with guards who attempted to remove him from his cell and that they shocked him with a stun gun. After he was taken to a prison infirmary, a self-inflicted cut was found on Lockett's arm that was determined not to require stitches. The report also notes that Lockett refused food at breakfast and lunch.

Madeline Cohen, a lawyer for inmate Charles Warner, who had been scheduled to be executed two hours after Lockett, said Oklahoma was revealing information about the events "in a chaotic manner".

"As the Oklahoma Department of Corrections dribbles out piecemeal information about Clayton Lockett's botched execution, they have revealed that Mr Lockett was killed using an invasive and painful method - an IV line in his groin," Ms Cohen said in a statement. "Placing such a femoral IV line requires highly specialised medical training and expertise."

Inserting IVs into the groin area - the upper thigh or pelvic region - is often done for trauma patients and in experienced hands can be straightforward, but injecting in the femoral vein can be tricky because it is not as visible as arm veins and lies next to the femoral artery, said Jonathan Weisbuch, a physician in Phoenix.

Warner's execution was initially rescheduled for May 13. Mr Patton called for an indefinite stay, something Ms Cohen said she agreed was necessary.

Governor Mary Fallin, who has ordered one of her cabinet members to investigate the botched execution, said she was willing to issue a 60-day stay for Warner, the longest allowed under state law, if needed to complete the inquiry.

"If it does require more time, then yes, I think they should take more time," Ms Fallin said. "We need to get it right."

If 60 days is not adequate, Oklahoma's attorney general said he would request an additional stay from the courts to ensure no executions are carried out until the review is complete.

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