For Immediate Release: June 13, 2014
Oklahoma Execution Team Failed to Place IV in Clayton Lockett’s Vein, According to Preliminary Findings of Independent Autopsy
The Oklahoma execution team failed to set a properly functioning IV in Clayton Lockett’s femoral vein, according to preliminary findings released today of an independent autopsy conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph I. Cohen, M.D. The autopsy was performed in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 14, 2014, following the botched execution of Mr. Lockett in Oklahoma City on April 29, 2014. Dr. Cohen was retained by attorneys for Oklahoma death row prisoners.
The preliminary findings can be accessed here:
Despite the report’s findings that Mr. Lockett’s veins, both surface and deep, were in excellent shape “for the purpose of achieving venous access,” the execution team attempted to place the IV for the lethal injection execution into his femoral vein in the groin area, which is riskier, more difficult and more painful to place.
According to Dr. Cohen’s report, he found “skin punctures on the extremities and right and left femoral areas,” demonstrating that the execution team attempted to set IVs in both arms and both sides of Mr. Lockett’s groin. Dr. Cohen further found superficial and deep hemorrhages “indicative of attempted vascular access” and “the presence of vascular injury indicative of failed vascular catheter access.” The execution team’s attempts to insert the IV perforated the femoral vein.
Contrary to statements by the state, Mr. Lockett’s veins did not collapse or “blow out.” Rather, despite the excellent condition of Mr. Lockett’s veins, the execution team made numerous failed attempts to set an IV, eventually setting an improperly placed and ineffective IV in Mr. Lockett’s femoral vein. Dr. Cohen also notes the “unlikelihood” that dehydration could have played a role in compromising venous access.
There are serious questions about the training of the personnel who performed the execution. The Department of Corrections timeline states that the IV was set by a phlebotomist, which was confirmed by the Governor’s office, but when Tulsa World questioned the assertions, both state agencies reversed their positions and said it was an EMT, whose name has not been revealed.
Oklahoma’s execution protocol allows for a central line, such as an IV to a femoral vein, only if set by a physician, not a phlebotomist.
“The improper placement of the IV used in Mr. Lockett’s execution is just one factor that caused his prolonged and painful death,” said Megan McCracken, an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law. “The three-drug protocol that was used exacerbated the pain and suffering that Mr. Lockett faced by needlessly paralyzing him and subjecting him to the pain of potassium chloride. Moreover, the state had no plan for contingencies in the event that the execution did not go as planned, as clearly happened here.”
“Lack of transparency is a pervasive problem with execution procedures,” Ms. McCracken commented. “During Mr. Lockett’s execution, the Department of Corrections closed the blinds to the execution chamber so that the witnesses and press could not see what was happening for the 24 minutes leading up to the announcement that Mr. Lockett had died. Nothing is known about what happened during this timeframe, and it is one of many questions Dr. Cohen seeks answers to in order to complete his independent autopsy.”
The additional information that Dr. Cohen seeks includes:
• Documentation of tests and procedures performed by the State of Oklahoma’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office;
• Autopsy, toxicology, histology and other reports generated by the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office;
• Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ policies and procedures pertaining to lethal injection executions;
• Documentation pertaining to Mr. Lockett’s execution;
• Mr. Lockett’s complete medical records and prison records;
• Information about cell extraction, including use of physical restraint or use of electrical conductive devices.
• Occurrence and treatment of injuries to Mr. Lockett prior to execution;
• Records pertaining to the transport and storage of Mr. Lockett’s body following the execution.
“Dr. Cohen has begun a critically important inquiry into the botched execution of Clayton Lockett,” says Dr. Mark Heath, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at Columbia University and expert in lethal injection executions. “However, to complete this inquiry, Dr. Cohen will need the state to provide extensive additional information beyond what the body itself revealed. I hope that Oklahoma provides everything he asks for so that we can all understand what went so terribly wrong in Mr. Lockett’s execution.”
More information about Dr. Cohen can be accessed here:
To speak with medical and other experts in lethal injection, please contact Laura Burstein at (202) 626-6868; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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