By Heide Brandes
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The Oklahoma inmate put to death in a flawed April execution may have died in agonizing pain due to a troubled lethal injection mix, a medical expert on Wednesday told a U.S. court that is hearing arguments on whether to halt executions in the state.
Lawyers for 21 death row Oklahoma inmates, four of whom are scheduled to be executed next year, have asked the court to halt future executions there after the flawed lethal injection of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett in April that prompted the state to set up new execution protocols.
David Lubarsky, an anesthesiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the sedative midazolam used in the injection cannot achieve the levels of unconsciousness needed for surgical procedures, and is therefore problematic for executions.
Lockett appeared to be conscious for longer than expected and probably was in pain when the final drugs in the injection, which were supposed to end his life, were administered.
"I believe the pain from the potassium chloride and the slow suffocation would be nothing short of agonizing," Lubarsky said.
Prison officials have said their lethal injection combinations are humane and appropriate.
Joseph Cohen, a forensic pathologist who performed an independent autopsy on Lockett, said medical staff failed about 15 times to place an IV line in the inmate, even though his veins were in excellent shape.
"It really sounds like it was a disorganized mess," he told the court.
A doctor and paramedic finally landed a line in his groin area, said a report by the state released this year. But that line was improperly placed and eventually fell out, spewing lethal injection chemicals and blood in the death chamber.
Oklahoma prison officials said previously they had used a new chemical combination for Lockett.
Several states including Oklahoma have struggled to obtain drugs for executions, while many pharmaceutical companies, mostly in Europe, have imposed sales bans because they object to having medications made for other purposes used in lethal injections.
The states have looked to alter lethal injection cocktails and to keep the suppliers' identities secret.
Attorneys for death row inmates have argued the drugs used in Oklahoma and other states could cause an unnecessarily painful death, which would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)