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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Oklahoma Execution Prompts Investigation

Death row inmates  Clayton Lockett, left, and Charles Warner, right, were both scheduled to die April 29, 2014, in Oklahoma's first double execution in nearly 80 years. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP)

Death row inmates Clayton Lockett, left, and Charles Warner, right, were both scheduled to die April 29, 2014, in Oklahoma’s first double execution in nearly 80 years. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP)

State officials will be conducting an autopsy of 38-year-old Clayton Lockett, the convicted felon who the state tried to execute with a combination of chemicals last night that the state had never tried before.

Lockett spoke, writhed and clenched his teeth on the gurney as it was happening. Officials lowered blinds so that members of the media who were there to observe could not report what was happening inside the death chamber.

State officials later said Lockett died from a heart attack. The state is conducting an investigation. Another execution scheduled for last night is on hold.

Graham Lee Brewer, who covers the Oklahoma prison system for The Oklahoman newspaper, was one of the media observers there. He discusses what he witnessed with Here & Now’s Robin Young.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. In a few minutes, what does last night's botched execution in Oklahoma mean for the use of lethal injections across the country?

YOUNG: But first to Oklahoma. James Downey(ph), a Washington Post blogger, wrote: Tuesday night Oklahoma tortured a man to death, referring to the execution of 38-year-old Clayton Lockett, with a combination of chemicals never used before. Now a warning: Our reporting on this story may be difficult for some ears. State officials canceled another execution scheduled for last night and are now conducting an autopsy and investigation into why Lockett writhed on the gurney for 16 minutes and officials lowered the blinds to the death chamber before he, Lockett, ultimately died of a heart attack.

Joining us from Norman, Oklahoma, is Graham Lee Brewer. He covers the prison system for the newspaper The Oklahoman and was one of the media observers last night. Graham, what was that like?

GRAHAM LEE BREWER: I guess I would say that it was - I didn't really feel a whole lot of emotion immediately because I was so concentrated on trying to record every little detail about what I was watching. Once the blinds were closed, we weren't really sure what was happening. It felt like a long time had passed before Director Patton eventually stepped back into the chamber and announced that he was going to stop the execution.

YOUNG: This is a corrections official, Robert Patton, that spoke to you. But before the blinds were closed, what did you see?

BREWER: Mr. Lockett was pronounced unconscious 10 minutes into the execution. About three minutes later, at 6:36, he began rising up from the gurney. He's strapped in, of course, so his chest and his head came up forcefully a few times. He mumbled a couple times. The third time you could hear him say the word man.

It was almost as if he was talking in his sleep. He began kicking his feet, moving his body around. And about three minutes later, that's when one of the medical professionals lifted the sheet that was covering him and checked the vein in his right arm, and then they closed the blinds.

YOUNG: There are reports that he said this isn't right, or somebody said this isn't right.

BREWER: I believe that was a Department of Corrections official who said that.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, this is part of an ongoing story, as you know. Manufacturers have been declining to provide the drug previously used in these executions. So states are using these cocktails. There have been other botched executions. We're going to take all of that up in a moment. But in this case, Lockett and the other criminal set to be executed last night, Charles Warner, had sued Oklahoma. They wanted to know the source of the drugs. Did anyone ever find the source of these drugs that were ultimately used?

BREWER: No, Judge Patricia Parrish, she's an Oklahoma district - Oklahoma County district judge, she initially ruled in favor of the inmates, agreeing that the law allowing the state to keep the source of their drugs secret was unconstitutional. But that was later overturned by the state supreme court. So at this point we do know that the attorney general's office here in Oklahoma has told us that the drugs were manufactured and did not come from a compounding pharmacy, but other than that, we really don't know anything else besides the names of the drugs and the dosages given.

YOUNG: And what do you think happens now? The state is going to have this investigation, but what are they looking at?

BREWER: That's the big question right now. I spoke with Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie this morning. Really they aren't offering much information at this point. Obviously the investigation and the autopsy are still ongoing. In terms of what this means for Mr. Warner's execution, that's still very open-ended.

The investigation could likely find that it was Mr. Lockett's vein that collapsed causing the problem and not the drugs. And they could go forward with Mr. Warner's execution using the same drugs. But at this point it's really unknown.

YOUNG: And Clayton Lockett was convicted of committing terrible crimes. Can you just briefly remind us what they were and how people in Oklahoma are responding to this failed execution?

BREWER: Sure. Lockett was convicted of murdering Stephanie Neiman. She was 19 at the time. This was in 1999 in a small town in Oklahoma called Perry. Neiman and a friend had inadvertently kind of stumbled upon a home invasion that Lockett and two accomplices were doing and were kidnapped in the process. Lockett later told police that he killed Stephanie because he believed that she would tell the police.

There were also three other kidnapping victims: the gentleman whose home they were robbing; his infant son; and then Stephanie's friend, who all three men sexually assaulted multiple times.

YOUNG: Yeah, even including the child. So, I mean, how are people in Oklahoma reaction to the fact that someone accused of these terrible crimes had a terrible death?

BREWER: It's hard to say. I do read the comments on my stories and try to get a feel for what readers are saying and what questions they may have. I get the sense that a lot of Oklahomans are very in favor of the death penalty, and I've even seen a lot of comments saying that, you know, the end result was what the state was looking for.

So you know, I do talk to some people who have some distaste for capital punishment, of course, but by and large I get the impression that Oklahomans are in favor of it.

YOUNG: That's Graham Lee Brewer, he covers the prison system for the newspaper The Oklahoman. Graham, thank you.

BREWER: Thank you for having me, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Bob McDonough

    Why bother with this investigation? The result is death, no matter how it happens. The State should not be killing people or allowing death. Not for prisoners, the ill or the unborn.

  • mike

    Why don’t they just get some heroin from the street and give the condemned an overdose?

  • bob

    What crime was this man guilty of? did his victim suffer? Not advocating torture but this person was given a trial and an appeals process. Your reporting shows a bias to the criminal.

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    Given what these two guys did in terms of brutalizing and murdering Stephanie Nieman when she pleaded for her life, there is no such thing as cruel and unusual punishment for them. From an online article that I found was the following: “The men could be heard “laughing about how tough Stephanie was” before Lockett shot Neiman a second time. “He ordered Mathis to bury her, despite the fact that Mathis informed him Stephanie was still alive.”

    Regarding the botched execution, my response is “If I first you don’t succeed, try try again.” Stephanie Nieman pleaded for her life to no avail. Given that the murder was committed 15 years ago, he should have been executed 14 years ago. Yes, let’s improve the death penalty process. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. The problem is that the justice system doesn’t get enough practice because there are too few death penalties actually carried out. Practice makes perfect!


    Lesson learned…… never commit murder or mayhem that results in murder. After this interview, one is given to believe the murders are the victim!?!

  • NoWorries

    Lots of time and money wasted on some piece of garbage that took the life of another human being. We should go back to the trusted and true way = Guillotine. I’m mean it’s 2014 we should be able to take care of this simple task in a swift and quick time frame. Firing squad, Guillotine, carbon monoxide. There should be no compasion for a MURDER!!

    WAKE UP PEOPLE.. WTF is wrong with you!!!

    The person murdered someone at minimum!!!

    • mike

      All these comments have gotten me to think: some people object to capital punishment because we, or someone, has to actually kill him. Why not let him kill himself? Just give him all the narcotics he wants and let him overdose himself. Then we can say, “We didn’t kill him, but he is no longer a problem”.

  • alan barlow

    The Oklahoma prison staff should be recruited to work for the CIA, extracting confessions from “suspects.” Who needs “extraordinary rendition” when we have the Oklahoma death panel clowns right here on American soil?

    “Are you sure we used enough battery acid?”

  • Olen

    Sorry folks…listen to yourselves: Torture is torture. 2 wrongs don’t make a right, especially if one of the wrong-doers is the state.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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