US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has famously referred to execution by lethal injection as an “enviable…quiet death.” Clayton Lockett’s death was anything but quiet.
In April, Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma was badly botched and brought new scrutiny to the problems with lethal injection. The state’s Republican governor, Mary Fallin, ordered the Oklahoma Office of Public Safety (OPS) to conduct an internal inquiry into the execution. A summary was released Thursday.
The investigation, conducted largely by a bunch of investigators working for the state highway patrol, didn’t produce much new information. The report mostly absolves the state of responsibility, even as it further documents the torture inflicted on Lockett before he died. It sheds no light on the effectiveness of the new, controversial, and experimental drugs used to kill Lockett—drugs that had been predicted to cause a torturous death.
But buried in the report are some of the rarely seen minutiae involved in the machinery of death, the small absurdities of a government-sanctioned killing—the pre-execution shower, the mental-health consultations, and suicide prevention efforts—all directed at someone about to die. And inside the report is the story of a real dead man walking who clearly didn’t view lethal injection as the enviable death Scalia thinks it is.
Before his execution, Lockett had been one of two inmates challenging Oklahoma’s law that shrouded the source of the state’s lethal injection drugs in secrecy. He’d been unable to obtain any information about where the drugs came from, whether they were legally obtained, or any other details about their purity or efficacy.
All of these issues were relevant because, thanks to a shortage of traditional execution drugs caused after pharmaceutical companies either stopped making or refused to export them, death penalty states have turned to a number of dubious means to find substitutes. Some have illegally imported them from questionable pharmacies abroad; others have turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies, some of which are known to have produced contaminated or irregular products. And states have been experimenting with new drugs never used in executions before. That’s what Oklahoma planned to do. Not only would it not disclose the source of the execution drugs, but it planned to use an untested drug cocktail on Lockett.
Despite all of this, the state assured Lockett’s lawyers that everything would be fine; his execution would not involve any undue suffering that might rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment. It seems clear from the OPS report, though, that Lockett didn’t believe them.
The report confirms earlier indications that Lockett was trying to find a way to kill himself before the state could. According to the report, Lockett refused to cooperate with his executioners. At 5 a.m. on the day of his execution, correctional officers sought to take Lockett for X-rays at the health center. (Why X-rays are part of the execution protocol is not explained.)
Lockett refused to get out from under his blanket and offer up his hands to be restrained. Corrections personnel at that point noticed blood inside the cell. They sought permission to use a Taser to forcibly extract Lockett from his cell, where Lockett had blocked the door.
When they finally got him out of his cell, prison staff discovered Lockett was suffering from self-inflicted wounds to his arms, and they found razor blades from a prison-issued safety razor and a homemade rope inside his cell. The report offers other evidence that suggests Lockett was preparing for suicide: About six weeks before his execution, Lockett had been suspected of hoarding hydroxyzine, an anti-anxiety medication he’d been prescribed. After he died, an autopsy showed potentially toxic levels of the drug in his system, suggesting he also attempted an overdose before he was executed.
Lockett was treated in the emergency room for the wounds on his arms. For much of the rest of the day, he seems to have been on suicide watch to prevent him from dying prematurely. He refused every meal, and he also refused to talk to his lawyers. Toward the end of the day, a mental-health staff member met with him, and then near 5 p.m., officers put him in the shower—hoping for a clean kill, if not a quiet one, perhaps.
More at Mother Jones. WARNING: Details are horrific.