Records show Oklahoma inmate chatted with execution team

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2015 5:24 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A condemned Oklahoma inmate calmly chatted with members of his execution team and even recommended a vein to the paramedic in charge of setting up his intravenous line, according to documents released Tuesday related to the botched lethal injection last spring.

Transcripts of interviews with prison and medical personnel inside the death chamber were among more than 5,000 pages of documents the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety released Tuesday to The Associated Press after the Tulsa World newspaper sued for their release.

The documents pertained to the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, who died 43 minutes after the lethal injection began. The problems led to a temporary moratorium on executions in Oklahoma while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the state's three-drug method is constitutionally humane.

The interviews with members of the execution team, whose names and identifying information were redacted from the records, show that Lockett casually chatted with the paramedic charged with inserting an IV for the deadly combination of drugs.

Lockett told the paramedic his arm was scarred from previous drug use, but that there still was a viable vein in his arm.

"And he said if you will go right above the scars, I have a good vein," the paramedic told two DPS investigators.

The paramedic took Lockett's advice and successfully inserted the needle but didn't have the right kind of tape to hold the line in place, according to the transcripts. The paramedic said Lockett also admitted that he intentionally dehydrated himself for three days leading up to the execution.

"He was very talkative until they raised the curtain and then he shut up," the paramedic told investigators.

Lockett clenched his teeth, writhed on the gurney and moaned after he'd been declared unconscious, prompting prison officials to try unsuccessfully to stop the execution.

DPS released a 32-page summary of its investigation in September, which blamed most of the execution's problems on a failed single IV line in Lockett's groin, but the agency did not release the documents connected to its probe until after the Tulsa World's lawsuit. The investigation revealed that a failed line caused the drugs to be administered locally instead of into Lockett's blood, but the doctor overseeing the execution didn't notice a problem with the injection site because Lockett's lower body was covered with a sheet.

The documents also reveal that the newly hired executive director of the Department of Corrections, Robert Patton, was concerned about his lack of involvement in the execution preparations. Patton told investigators he didn't even know the agency had acquired the drugs for the execution until he learned it from the media.

"I found out that they had found a pharmacist and the drugs, uh through a news report," Patton said, according to a transcript of his interview.

The testimony of Patton and others involved in the execution suggest there was nervousness and unease with two executions being scheduled on the same night using a new three-drug formula that hadn't been used in Oklahoma before.

"These were particularly concerning to me," Patton said. "A new protocol, one I was not familiar with really."

After Lockett's execution went awry, Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a halt to the second scheduled execution of Charles Warner. Warner was executed nearly nine months later, on Jan. 15, using the same three drugs in Lockett's execution, but with a five-fold increase the amount of the first drug, the sedative midazolam.

Since Warner's execution, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider a challenge to the new three-drug method from a group of Oklahoma death row inmates who claim the sedative won't properly render them unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered.

A legal brief in that case filed this week by 16 pharmacology professors at universities across the country states that midazolam is incapable of rendering an inmate unconscious and is an inappropriate first drug in the protocol. The court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on April 29.

Patton and other state officials have publicly acknowledged midazolam is not the preferred drug for lethal injection, but one that was selected when other more effective, drugs became unavailable because manufacturers refused to sell them to states for use in executions.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy