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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
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Oklahoma Draws New Rules for Executions

(CN) - Oklahoma prison officials unveiled new execution protocols after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett; the new rules still allow controversial tapping of the femoral artery and limit media access to executions.

The new standards , announced Tuesday, come one month after an investigation ordered by Gov. Mary Fallin concluded that improper monitoring of IV insertion points in Lockett's groin resulted in controversially sourced execution drugs pooling in his tissue instead of his bloodstream.

Lockett, 38, was convicted in 2000 of the rape and murder of Stephanie Neiman, 19. He was convicted of shooting her with a sawed-off shotgun and watching two accomplices bury her alive.

His execution on April 29 was halted after 20 minutes as he breathed heavily, writhed in apparent agony, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head off a pillow. Blinds separating the viewing gallery from the death chamber were lowered and Lockett died from a heart attack shortly thereafter.

Under the new protocols, the IV team is given one hour to attempt an IV insertion. If they are unsuccessful, the warden must contact the governor to advise of the problem and "potentially request a postponement of the execution."

A team member and a prison unit section chief must both confirm the viability of the IV sites, as well. The team may try to tap a femoral vein as an alternative site under the new protocols.

During Lockett's execution, the team had to tap a vein in his groin because they were unable to tap veins elsewhere. Warden Anita Trammell ordered Lockett's groin and the IV line insertion area covered with a sheet to maintain Lockett's dignity and keep his genital area covered.

Prison officials' claims of not being able to find veins on Lockett elsewhere and that the veins had been "blown out" were disputed by a preliminary autopsy in June, which noted that he had "excellent integrity and peripheral and deep veins" for the purpose of an IV insertion.

Dr. Joseph Cohen, an independent forensic pathologist, was unable to find "any significant underlying natural disease" nor a "cardiac condition" that played a role in Lockett's death by heart attack.

The new protocols also greatly reduce the number of media witnesses in executions, from 12 to 5. Preference will be given to media from where the crime was committed and to The Associated Press.

Prison officials were sued in Federal Court in August by the Oklahoma Observer, Guardian US and freelance journalist Katie Fretland, for drawing the blinds during Lockett's execution. The media called it a deprivation "of the opportunity to verify the nature and source of sounds emanating from the execution chamber, which indicated pain and suffering ."

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