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When Death Sentences Go Wrong

Updated on February 6, 2020

UPDATED VIDEO: New details

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 - Oklahoma State Prison

6:23 P.M. McAlester, Oklahoma. Supervised by Director Robert Patton, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections administered a lethal injection to 38 year old Clayton Derrell Lockett, a death row inmate.

His crime, while heinous, isn't relevant to "how" his execution was carried out, except that it was the reason "why" it was carried out. To read the details, they are provided a little further in this article under the subtitle "The Crime." (Sorry, I still can't get the table of contents list to show up correctly.)

The state of Oklahoma recently began using a new three drug combination for their lethal injection process, in keeping the death penalty humane. (If there were ever an oxymoron, that would be it!)

They do not use machines to dispense the drugs into IV lines but still administer them by hand in a syringe injected into the IV. Two IV's were inserted, one into each arm, and three executioners each took turns injecting one of three drugs using hand held syringes. It was the state's first time using these particular three-drugs for an execution.

The delivery order of the lethal injection was: Midazolam (to cause unconsciousness), Vecuronium Bromide (to stop respiration) and Potassium Chloride (to stop the heart).

When after several minutes, the expected reaction was not observed, Director Patton said the reason he stopped Lockett's execution because of a vein failure which left Lockett writhing on the gurney, shaking uncontrollably.

Some witnesses said Lockett was struggling to speak, then officials blocked all the witnesses' view by closing the blind.

More details are supplied in the reporter's video.

No witnesses to the botched execution once the blinds closed

Director Patton said that after administering the first drug, they began to push in the second and third drugs. When they noticed the drugs were not having the desired effect, the doctor said one of the veins where the IV line had been inserted had blown. Patton said "Lockett's vein had exploded." He said he halted the execution and that Lockett later died of a heart attack.

This isn't exactly the way the eye-witnesses tell it, nor how the videos I've watched play this out. The Governor wasn't even there and had a press conference to issue a statement. In her case, this is a fine example of either "Whispering Down The Lane" OR "How To Spin A Bad Situation So The State Doesn't Look So Bad."

The official government spin on this situation came from Governor Mary Fallin when she issued a statement saying that "execution officials said Lockett remained unconscious after the lethal injection drugs were administered." Obviously this wasn't true, because other eyewitnesses said differently. She has since called for an "independent review" of their system, but it is, in effect, just going through the motions as you may agree when you read the article here.

One of Lockett's lawyers, David Autry, said: "This was botched, and it was difficult to watch."

Another witness Ziva Branstetter told a broadcaster from MSNBC that Lockett was thrashing about and appeared to be in pain.

Cary Aspinwall of the Tulsa World newspaper said Lockett was still alive, lifted his head and before he could see or hear any more, the prison officials lowered the blinds to shield Lockett from view.

Reporting for CNN, Courtney Francisco of KFOR said Lockett raised his head and said "Man," "I'm not," and "something's wrong." She said the injection process started at 6:23PM, Lockett was unconscious at 6:33 PM, started to convulse at 6:36 PM, the curtains were closed at 6:39 PM.

Lockett was pronounced dead from a massive heart attack at 7:06 PM. This implies they did not give any more drugs to complete the execution. The last picture the witnesses have of Lockett is his uncontrollable thrashing around, being in pain and highly agitated. Did prison officials leave him that way for the remaining 40 minutes?

CNN Reporter Courtney Francisco raises the question that may become a pretty big deal in the next weeks. At the 7:30 mark on the following video she says that the witnesses were there to witness the execution, since by law, it was their duty to make sure it was carried out.

Once the blinds were closed, that was not possible. Prison officials told the witnesses and the media that Lockett died 40 minutes later of a heart attack. But with no witnesses, who is to say that is true. No one witnessed his death. Saying it is a heart attack essentially means they did not follow through with the rest of the lethal dose of medication..

This is not the last we will have heard about this case.

An eyewitness reporter describes the botched execution. Look at 7:30 onward - this will become an illegal execution because there were no witnesses

Foreseeable Future Of Oklahoma's Lethal Injections

One death row inmate is breathing a sigh of relief at this turn of events.

Charles Warner is the next person on the Oklahoma Department of Correction's execution list and he was due to be executed on May 13, 2014.

His lawyers hastily applied for and have been granted a 180 day stay for Warner, while the Attorney General investigates Clayton Lockett's botched execution.

Warner's new execution date is November 13, 2014.

What The Public Is Saying About The Botched Lethal Injection

A death row inmate's execution was botched so that he suffered for 42 minutes before dying of a heart attack that smacks familiar of the botched crime he committed in June 1999. Many people wrote in on various television news and newspaper websites:

"Isn't he the animal who shot the woman then watched his pals bury her alive? A botched murder deserves a botched execution."

"I hate to sound cold or spread malice...but it got the job done right? Karma..."

  • A view replied: "Yes, he was sentenced to die. He was not sentenced to be tortured to death. I am sure Jesus would not have cheered his pain."

"Wait -- someone died at an execution?! That doesn't sound "botched" -- that sounds "successful"

"Botching" a few more might send a message!"

  • A reader replied: "I am disgusted at the pro agony statements. Is this what an enlightened society creates."

"How does his vein collapsing equate a "botched" execution? He obviously had bad veins if they had problems locating a vein. This can happen during any IV procedure. This is not the DOC's fault. I am sick of all the bad PR for our state."

  • A viewer replied: "Witnesses said he was healthy as a horse - and no such bad vein problem - that it might have been a different problem - hope we get real answers from the autopsy."

"They have released the timeline of the execution and had to search his body for a suitable vein before they finally found one near his groin that was acceptable."

  • A reader replied: "It also stated he refused food. If he was not drinking he could have been dehydrated which would cause vein issues. Then again karma may have bit him."

"For those of you who enjoyed the fact that this murderer suffered for 42 minutes before he died of a heart attack…………….you are no better than the murderer. I am FOR the death penalty but if this hick state can’t carry it out properly………..I may become anti-death penalty.

"Oklahoma voted for torture and concentration camps when they elected Bush in 2004."

The Sentence

August 2000 - Clayton Derrell Lockett, age 24, was convicted of first degree murder, conspiracy, first degree burglary, three counts of oral sodomy, four counts of first degree rape, three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, four counts of kidnapping, and two counts of robbery by force and fear regarding a crime spree that left 18 year old Stephanie Nieman dead and two others injured.

After more than three hours, a jury came back with a guilty verdict. In the penalty phase, he was sentenced to 2,285 years plus 90 days of imprisonment.

The Crime

June 1999 in Perry, OK. With shotgun in hand, 23 year old Clayton Derrell Lockett leading his 17 year old cousin Alfonzo Locket, and 27 year old friend Shawn Mathis kicked the door in to Bobby Bornt's house, saying he wanted money Bornt owed him for removing his tattoo.

After gagging him and duct taping his hands behind his back, all three men beat Bornt, then ransacked his house looking for drugs, finding Bornt's 9 month old baby boy Sam sleeping in the bedroom. Bad timing brought Summer Hair and Stephanie Nieman knocking at the door so that they were brought in, duct taped and beaten when Nieman wouldn't turn over the keys or passcode to disarm to her pickup truck. Both women were raped multiple times by all three men.

Because Nieman now said she would call the police if and when she was set free, the trio piled Bornt, his son Sam, Summer Hair and Stephanie Nieman into Bornt's pickup and Nieman's pickup, drove them to rural Kay County, OK. and after more raping and beating, Nieman was shot by Clayton Lockett.

In a turn of events that would play out at Lockett's execution, he botched the first time he shot her because the shotgun jammed. Nieman's muffled screams were heard as she lay in a ditch dug by Mathis, waiting for Lockett to fix the gun. When he did, the second time he shot her was in the dead.

Lockett told Mathis, who dug the ditch, to finish burying Nieman's body. She was still alive as he continued to shovel dirt on her. The group returned to Bornt's house where all were warned if they told anyone, they'd be killed also.

The next day, Bornt and Hair told Perry OK police what happened. Nieman's pickup and body were found exactly as they said, and both Locketts and Mathis were arrested that night at the home of Shawn Mathis in Enid, OK.

Clayton Lockett was interviewed three times. The first time he asked for a lawyer, which stopped the interview. The second time he denied shooting Nieman. The third time he confessed to killing her. It was corroborated by Bornt, Hair, and later by Alfonzo Lockett and Shawn Mathis who were tried separately.

.----Paraphrased from news reports and court documents.

This was Clayton Lockett's third strike.

In 1996, Clayton Lockett was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty in Kay County to conspiracy to commit embezzlement. He was released from prison in August 1998.

In 1992, he pled guilty in Kay County to burglary and knowingly concealing stolen property. He received a seven-year prison sentence. Earlier that year, he pleaded no contest to two counts of intimidating state witnesses.

As of December 2013, these are the numbers

Numbers of death penalties carried out and the methods
Numbers of death penalties carried out and the methods
Public regarding the death penalty
Public regarding the death penalty

Rachael's Trivial Points of Interest for the Trivia-Minded Reader™

ƒ Mistaken eyewitness identifications account for approximately 73% of the 311 wrongful convictions in the United States, which were overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence.

---- The Innocence Project

ƒ The average length of a prison sentence served by prisoners who were exonerated by DNA is 13.6 years. --- CNN, Cases by the numbers

ƒ Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife who was attacked and killed at their home in Williamson County, Texas. Michael was at work, but still he was a suspect.

"Innocent people think that if you just tell the truth then you've got nothing to fear from the police," Morton says now. "If you just stick to it that the system will work, it'll all come to light, everything will be fine."

Instead, Morton was charged, ripped away from his young son, and put on trial. The prosecutor, speaking to the jury in emotional terms with tears streaming down his face, laid out a graphic, depraved sexual scenario, accusing Morton of bludgeoning his wife for refusing to have sex on his birthday.

With the help of The Innocence Project, he was freed on April 2011.

ƒ Oklahoma's current death penalty law using lethal injection has been in effect since 1977. The original death penalty law in Oklahoma called for executions to be carried out by electrocution. In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the death penalty as it was then administered. A total of 190 men and 3 women were executed between 1915 and 2014. 82 were electrocuted, one was hanged, and 110 by lethal injection. The last electrocution was in 1966. The first lethal injection was September 10, 1900 with the execution of Charles Troy Coleman who was convicted in 1979 of First Degree in Muskogee County. (Source:

My Two Cents

I first want to say I respect all opinions - whether one is "for" or "against" lethal injection as a method of carrying out the death penalty. While it does have some bearing on the opinions expressed by the above quotes, the opinions are not solely reliant on it, as you can see by those who refer to the Bible and Jesus Christ in their comments.

I'm not one of those Bible bangers who makes statements that "Jesus wouldn't approve of this type of punishment," or that "an eye for an eye is what the Bible says." I'm a Christian (albeit, a thoroughly confused Christian due to years of Catholic education), I just don't go around quoting the Bible or pushing quotes and religion in people's faces.

Since 1976 (see above charts) when lethal injection first started to be used as the "humane" way of executing our criminals (in many states), I agree that it is a humane solution after seeing what the electric chair can do to a body.

But I also think it should only be for the guilty who have confessed, those who were caught in the act, or where there is video tape (store, surveillance, etc.) to back up their guilt.

Eyewitnesses are not always reliable, but in some venues, many eyewitnesses get together to form a quorum to insure guilt.

I don't agree the death penalty should be used for all those who are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I do believe that all should be punished for their crimes.

But I tend to first favor incarceration for one very good reason. Years after the fact, many convicts are being found innocent, the manner of their convictions and investigations have come under fire and their cases are overturned, all because of DNA.

If we kill someone by lethal injection, where DNA later proves them to be innocent, then it is tough luck for the dead convict. You can undo death. If they are incarcerated, there is still an opportunity to undo a wrong.

Actually I favor exporting criminals to an island out in the middle of the deep blue sea where no other land can be seen, where the security is such that pirate laws exist.

Is that realistic? No, it is not. Yet.

In this case of a botched lethal injection, it is rather ironic that Clayton Lockett botched the killing of his victim 18 year old Stephanie Nieman with a jammed shotgun and that 15 years later, his own execution was botched. Irony has a way, along with karma, of doing that.

I'm going to leave you with a few questions hoping to spur your opinions and comments.

Did Clayton Lockett deserve to suffer for over 40 minutes until he died? Do you think that was inhumane? Or his just desserts?

Does the medication delivery system used in Oklahoma need to be revamped so that something like this doesn't happen again?

Lockett was guilty by admission as well as by co-conspirators giving him up, sealing his third strike fate which meant that he would get life in prison (no matter what crime he committed). Unless sentences are worded "Life without possibility of parole" LIFE doesn't mean life. A prisoner has to serve 75% of the life sentence to be eligible for parole.

Do you think that Life sentences should be worded "LIFE with no parole?" Or do you believe everyone should have a chance at parole after serving 75% of sentence?

Lockett had been habitually released on probation after serving half or almost half of the sentence handed down in his past incarcerations. Do you think people are just bad to the bone, or do they become that way as products of their environment or life experiences?

What is your opinion of this botched execution? There are some links in the sidebar so you can learn some more information about this case and about botched executions.

Update August 25, 2014

Oklahoma stopped lethal injections until they investigate this matter, but President Obama ordered a federal review of ALL state execution protocols, not just for Oklahoma. In other words, he ordered it, but not a word has been heard since. So the lawsuits are starting to be filed now.

Other countries have abolished death sentences for various reasons, but the main thing I wanted to share with this update is that the United States relies on other countries to supply them with the ingredients of the lethal injection cocktails they need to carry out death sentences.

If a country is not in favor of the United States death penalty, they are within their rights to stop supplying the United States with the product.

Do we ever hear about this part? No!

So when there are not enough ingredients, the government is doing what you would do if you didn't have enough sugar to make a cake - they substitute.

The sugar substitute you would use may not be up to the standard ingredient called for in the recipe and can possibly make your cake taste funny, lean to one side or even fall.

Substitutes sometimes alter the way the whole product looks in the end (a glitch) and if not measured correctly, you can have quite a different looking (botched) product to put on your table for your guests.

Do you toss it in the garbage or do you serve it? Well, you might figure it is okay to taste it to see if it is any good, and sometimes you can salvage some part of it so you can serve it up and not disappoint your guests.

The same is true with the government's use of lethal injection. Because their supplies are denying them a supply of the original product they need, they are substituting a similar product which is supposed to have the same effect as the original, but the outcomes, as we are seeing, are slightly different.

The "patient" either doesn't respond to the recipe "substitution" the same way as the original ingredient, or because the "chemist" didn't allow for the potency and pro-action of the drug as it interacts with the others in the syringe, now the expected outcome has been "botched!"

In company with two news organizations, the ACLU's staff attorney Lee Rowland filed a lawsuit stating:

“The state of Oklahoma violated the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of the press to witness executions so the public can be informed about the government’s actions and hold it accountable. The death penalty represents the most powerful exercise of government authority. The need for public oversight is as critical at the execution stage as it is during trial.”

The thing that gets me about this is they are ticked off because the blinds were closed! It is a knee-jerk little kid reaction - How dare you close the blinds on us!

To hell with the fact that the cocktail was altered and the prisoner, Clayton Lockett, suffered.

They filed this lawsuit to force Oklahoma Prisons to let all spectators watch executions from beginning to end - from the time the prisoner enters the chamber until the "dead" prisoner is removed.

You can continue reading here, but I especially want you to view the (non-graphic) video at the link, because it will prove what I wrote here to be true ...not only the reasons why the United States has been substituting the ingredients in the lethal injection cocktail which has resulted in botched executions, but the fact that they actually DO.

The US government has never admitted this before because the US doesn't give out bad press notices about themselves.

Scroll down the page at the link and read about other states besides Oklahoma who have lawsuits filed against them for electric chair and the latest report that it took FIFTEEN doses to kill a prisoner in Arizona!

Thanks for stopping back here to read the update.

Update: September 15, 2014

The video which originally appeared at the top of this article was from execution day when the initial reports were made. It showed the actual prison building, the execution chamber, the viewer gallery, some of the officials who were administering the lethal injection before the curtains were closed and interviews with family members, reporters who were present and other spectators.

I did not make or own the video. Like other authors here on HubPages, I rely on YouTube videos made by other parties in order to enhance my article or make my points for me.

All videos from the week of the execution have been pulled from YouTube, especially those where the process was questioned, the word "botched" was used or questions in the video left the viewer hanging.

The video I have substituted has evidently passed the sniff test since it has posted on May 2, 2014. It shows modulars and is a good representation of how I wanted to present this article.

Thank you.

©Rachael O'Halloran, May 14, 2014

Rachael's Trivial Points of Interest for the Trivia-Minded Reader™

© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran


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