Lockett’s execution was scheduled for 6pm. At 6:23, observers reported witnessing the administration of a sedative, with a doctor reporting that Lockett was fully sedated at 6:33. Sedation is critical in executions, as the three-drug cocktail used involves a sedative, a paralytic, and a drug that induces cardiac arrest. Without sedation, the process would be extremely painful and traumatic for the prisoner, who would suffocate to death while fully conscious.
When the second and third drugs were administered, however, Lockett was clearly alert and responsive to his surroundings, groaning and licking his lips. He reportedly tried to lift his head and was clearly in a state of physical distress. A prison official in the room said ‘something’s wrong,’ according to AP reporter Bailey Elise McBride, and the shutters between the execution chamber and the witnesses were closed. The witnesses waited for over 47 minutes for news, later learning that Lockett died of cardiac arrest at 7:06.
Some confusion initially obscured the cause of the problem – the drugs, or a blown vein. If it was the drugs, Oklahoma’s experimental drug cocktail would have been proved ineffective and dangerous, yet again. If it was a blown vein that prevented successful administration of the drugs, it was a testimony to the dangers of having inept, careless, and poorly-trained medical personnel in the execution chamber—a number of states don’t even require medical staff to be present at executions. The presence of a blown vein is easy to spot and correct and the physician present should have checked the intravenous line before administering the second and third drugs.
The grisly scene in the execution chamber horrified witnesses, and set off a firestorm of infuriated conversation. Death penalty opponents argue that execution itself is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, barred under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Advocates have long maintained that lethal injection is a humane and effective way to conduct executions, dodging the issue of whether the state should be conducting retributive justice in the first place. As this and other recent botched executions illustrate, however, the death penalty is clearly not humane in any form.