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Autopsy released on US inmate in botched execution

June 14, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An autopsy released Friday in a botched 43-minute U.S. execution that drew world outrage says the prisoner had healthy veins but his body had multiple punctures from the execution team trying to find them.

The private autopsy was released by attorneys for Oklahoma death row inmates.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph Cohen said more information was needed to determine why Clayton Lockett died after his execution was stopped, but his preliminary findings indicate that the execution team had tried repeatedly to insert an intravenous line into his body without success, including into deep veins on both sides of Lockett’s groin.

A doctor inside the death chamber during the April 29 execution reported that Lockett did not receive a full dose of the three lethal drugs after his vein collapsed, but Cohen said in his report that Lockett had “excellent integrity of peripheral and deep veins for the purpose of achieving venous access.”

Results from a state autopsy are pending, and toxicology reports haven’t been released, so it’s unclear how much of the drugs Lockett received.

Oklahoma executions typically involve IVs inserted into both arms, but prison officials have reported an IV specialist hired for Lockett’s execution was unable to find viable veins on his arms, legs or feet. A doctor overseeing the execution suggested tapping the femoral vein in Lockett’s groin area, but prison officials have not said who inserted the IV, and state law allows the identities of the doctor and the IV expert to remain secret.

Prison officials have not said who inserted the IV, and state law allows the identities of the doctor and the IV expert to remain secret. Oklahoma prisons spokesman Jerry Massie said Friday the IV specialist was a certified emergency medical technician, but declined further comment until an investigation into the botched execution is completed by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

Oklahoma was using the three-drug method for the first time. After being declared unconscious by the doctor inside the death chamber during his execution, Lockett writhed on the gurney and attempted to lift his head for several minutes after the second and third drugs were administered. After checking the IV, the doctor reported the drugs had either absorbed into Lockett’s tissue or leaked out of his body. Oklahoma was using a new three-drug method for the first time.

Without a second dose of lethal drugs, Oklahoma’s prisons director halted the execution, but Lockett was pronounced dead anyway about 43 minutes after the execution began. Prison officials have said he died of an apparent heart attack.

Cohen said he could not address whether Lockett died of a heart attack. Lockett’s heart and larynx were kept by the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, which was conducting an autopsy on Lockett at the request of Oklahoma officials.

The Texas autopsy was part of an investigation ordered by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin into Lockett’s death. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a six-month stay of execution for a second inmate who was scheduled to die on the same night as Lockett.

A spokesman for Fallin said he hadn’t seen Cohen’s report, but that it seemed to support the initial findings released by the Department of Corrections after Lockett’s execution.

“It appears to reinforce what we already know, which is that there was a problem inserting the IV,” said Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz.

Lockett, a four-time felon, was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999 after Nieman and a friend arrived at a home the men were robbing.

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