An experimental cocktail of drugs used in the lethal injection of Oklahoma’s first double execution in 80 years improperly killed one man sparking controversy nationwide.
Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner were both scheduled to be executed Tuesday, April 28, in an Oklahoma correctional center.
Lockett was first and was executed with a concoction of three drugs: midazolam to cause unconsciousness, vecuronium bromide to stop respiration and potassium chloride to stop the heart, the LA Times reports.
This mixture was injected into Lockett’s body and he appeared to be unconscious, but after several minutes passed, it was clear the injections weren’t having the anticipated effects. He began twitching and eventually seizing.
Lockett eventually died of a massive heart attack due to the explosion of a vein, USA Today said.
The botched execution is only part of the controversy at hand. The constitutional whirlwind taking place in Oklahoma is causing an even bigger uproar as the state Supreme Court reversed itself as a reaction to pressure from Oklahoma officials to proceed with the executions.
The Oklahoma state Supreme Court responded to a civil suit filed by Lockett and Warner requesting information on the lethal drugs to be used during the execution. Justices delayed the double execution in a 5-4 decision, putting into question the state’s injection secrecy law which allows state officials to keep basic information about the injections under wraps.
Soon after that decision was made, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin stated that she would not follow the Supreme Court’s orders and threatened to proceed with the state appellate court’s decision to carry on with the execution, according to the LA Times.
Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Mike Christian also refused to accept the state Supreme Court’s orders and introduced impeachment proceedings against each of the justices, The Week said.
Both officials believe that the Oklahoma Supreme Court overstepped its boundaries by delaying the case because of a state law that separates the duties of the two high courts.
The appellate court manages civil matters and the Supreme Court manages criminal matters, so Gov. Fallin and Rep. Christian do not believe the justices had a right to delay the execution, The Week said.
The Supreme Court reversed itself a day later stating that Lockett and Warner were given adequate information. The delay was removed, keeping the executions on-track with the April 28 date, the LA Times reports.
Since Lockett’s failed execution, Warner’s execution has been postponed for two weeks by Gov. Fallin who asked for a review of the state’s execution procedures to determine what exactly went wrong.
Questions about the constitutionality of the death penalty are rapidly surfacing.
Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, spoke out against the continuance of the death penalty in Oklahoma until the procedures there, and in other states practicing the death penalty, become transparent.
“Tonight, in a climate of secrecy and political posturing, Oklahoma intends to kill two death row prisoners using an experimental new drug protocol, including a paralytic, making it impossible to know whether the executions will comport with the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual suffering,” she said before the execution, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state with lethal injection secrecy laws. Missouri and Louisiana do as well, resulting very little information on the execution procedure. Other states, like Georgia, are debating the constitutionality of introducing these secrecy laws.
The impact of this case is far reaching, as the nation is questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty altogether, the capability of prison authorities to administer lethal injections and whether or not these injections violate the 8th Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
For now, Gov. Fallin has not said if Warner’s two week period could be extended, so he and Cohen will wait for results of Lockett’s execution review and proceed from there.