OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma’s death chamber was “a disorganized mess” during a troubled execution in April, a pathologist who performed an autopsy on the executed inmate told a federal court that is hearing arguments on whether to halt executions in the state.
Lawyers for 21 death row Oklahoma inmates, four of whom are scheduled to be executed next year, have asked the court to halt future executions there after the flawed lethal injection of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett in April led to national and global criticism.
Joseph Cohen, a forensic pathologist who performed the independent autopsy on Lockett, said medical staff failed about 15 times to place an IV line in the inmate, even though his veins were in excellent shape.
“I can’t fathom that it would be so difficult to place a catheter line,” he told the court on Wednesday. “It really sounds like it was a disorganized mess.”
A doctor and paramedic who failed repeatedly to place an IV in Lockett finally landed a line in his groin area, said a report by the state released earlier this year. But that line was improperly placed and eventually fell out, spewing lethal injection chemicals and blood in the death chamber.
David Autry, an attorney for Lockett who witnessed the execution, said the sedative that was supposed to render him unconscious did not work properly and Lockett raised his head several minutes after the injection and said “something’s wrong.”
Oklahoma prison officials said previously they used a new chemical combination with Lockett. After the execution, they drew up new protocols they said would remedy problems.
Several states including Oklahoma have struggled to obtain drugs for executions, while many pharmaceutical companies, mostly in Europe, have imposed sales bans because they object to having medications made for other purposes used in lethal injections.
The states have looked to alter the chemicals used for lethal injection and to keep the suppliers’ identities secret. They have also turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies that can mix chemicals.
Attorneys for death row inmates have argued that the drugs used in Oklahoma and other states could cause an unnecessarily painful death, which would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham