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How Oklahoma Botched an Execution with Untested Drugs

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Tuesday night was horrific. After weeks of controversy, Oklahoma had planned to execute two convicted murders with untested lethal injection drugs. As many had feared, the drugs didn't work like they were supposed to, and one lethal injection drugsof the prisoners suffered in front of an audience.

That prisoner, Clayton Lockett, died of a heart attack after a vein "blew," presumably due to the questionable cocktail the state of Oklahoma injected into his arm. Instead of the instant, supposedly human death that lethal injection is supposed to cause, he writhed on the table and even spoke. A lawyer later said that Lockett was "tortured to death." The Guardian Katie Fretland reported from the chamber:

For three minutes after the first drugs were delivered, [Lockett] struggled violently, groaned and writhed, lifting his shoulders and head from the gurney.

Some 16 minutes after the execution began, and without Lockett being declared dead, the blinds separating the chamber from the viewing room were lowered. The process was called off shortly afterward.


So what went wrong? Well, it's a long complicated story, one that cuts at the very core of the capital punishment debate. In short, Oklahoma attempted to use unproven drugs for the execution, and it didn't work. This is after many of the proven lethal injection drugshave been been taken off the market, putting states that have capital punishment in a tough spot. Improvising, however, is not a good way to go. Motherboard explained the specific cocktail and its issues before the botched execution:

If the executions take place as planned, it will be the first time that the state uses a new, three-drug protocol: midazolam as the pain relief agent, vecuronium bromide as the paralytic, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. The only known use of this combination has been in Florida, whose protocol called for five times more midazolam.

While the drugs themselves have been disclosed, the source, purity, testing and efficacy of the drugs hasn't been…


But again, the debate over how—and especially if—we kill prisoners has been going on a long time. Lethal injection often works, but as Oklahoma's made clear, it's not fail proof. Then again, what is? (Spoiler: the guillotine)

Image via AP