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13 May 2014

The United Nations has renewed its call for a moratorium on the death penalty in the United States amid outcry over the botched execution of a convicted murderer and rapist.

The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned the execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett may have breached may have breached international law.

The comments came as details emerged of Lockett’s final hours, including evidence that he took almost 45 minutes to die after being injected with an untested cocktail of drugs, many of which appear to have leaked directly into his body after an intravenous line failed.

Witnesses said Lockett convulsed violently during the execution and tried to lift his head, even after a doctor declared him unconscious. He died of an apparent heart attack, 43 minutes after the execution had begun.

“What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling,” US President Barack Obama said when asked about international condemnation of US application of the death penalty following Lockett’s case.

Mr Obama said Attorney General Eric Holder would be asked to “get me an analysis of what steps have been taken, not just in this particular instance, but more broadly in this area”.

The President said the death penalty's application in the US was problematic, with evidence of racial bias and the eventual exoneration of some death-row inmates.

“All these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied,” Mr Obama said, “and this situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the significant problems there.”

A timeline of the execution released by Oklahoma authorities shows that it took a phlebotomist almost 50 minutes to find a vein after checking the prisoner’s arms, legs, feet and neck.

Finally, the IV was inserted into a vein in Mr Lockett’s groin and a dose of Midazolam was administered.

The attending doctor declared Mr Lockett unconscious 10 minutes later, though witnesses reported that the prisoner continued to move his head, fight against his restraints and attempt to speak for a further three minutes.

Once Mr Lockett was declared unconscious, the doctor administered vecuronium and potassium chloride through the IV.

But, 10 minutes later, the doctor checked the IV and found that the vein had collapsed and the drugs had leaked out and been absorbed in the surrounding tissue.

The doctor then contacted the warden and informed him that not enough drugs had been administered to cause death, that there were not enough drug left to complete the execution and that there was no vein to inject them into even if there was.

The doctor reported that, at that time, Mr Lockett was unconscious but still had a faint heart beat.

The execution was officially called off 33 minutes after the Midazolam was administered, and Mr Lockett was declared dead of a heart attack 10 minutes after that – one hour and 44 minutes after the prisoner was first strapped into the gurney.

Mr Lockett was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to death for the kidnap and murder of a 19-year-old woman during a home invasion. The woman survived the initial assault, and Mr Lockett ordered two accomplices to bury her alive, and raped one of her friends. His accomplices are serving life sentences.

The families of his victims expressed satisfaction at his execution, but the manner of his death had appalled the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Spokesman Richard Colville said “the suffering of Clayton Lockett during his execution in Oklahoma on Tuesday 29 April, may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment according to international human rights law”.

Mr Colville said that the execution also appeared to run counter to the US constitution, which bars “cruel and unusual punishment”.

“The prolonged death of Clayton Lockett is the second case of apparent extreme suffering caused by malfunctioning lethal injections reported in 2014 in the United States,” he added, referring to the case of Dennis McGuire, executed in Ohio in January with an allegedly untested combination of drugs.
“The apparent cruelty involved in these recent executions simply reinforces the argument that authorities across the United States should impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and work for abolition of this cruel and inhuman practice,” he said.
Authorities in many of the 32 states that still have the death penalty have been scrambling to find a supply of drugs to carry out executions after European pharmaceutical companies, their usual source, placed an embargo on the use of their products for capital punishment, in line with European Union laws.

Adrian Rollins


Published: 13 May 2014