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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.

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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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