Failed Experiments: Stop All Lethal Injections Now

Assurances about lethal injection rest on the premise that inmates are sedated and unconscious before other excruciating drugs are administered. The horrifying experiences of recent executions make clear these assurances are false. The drugs used in recent executions produced not a sleep into death but many wakeful minutes of struggle and pain. Such executions are clear violations of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and require investigation and action.

In other words, no human being should be death's guinea pig.

We were all reminded of this Tuesday night when the state of Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett in a gruesome experiment. Using an untested protocol, with secretly obtained drugs, the state started Lockett's execution at 6:23 p.m. Ten minutes later, Locket was pronounced unconscious and administered the second and third drugs. Shortly thereafter, it became clear that Lockett was not unconscious as he writhed, breathed heavily, and mumbled. He clenched his teeth and tried to rise off the bed. His lawyer said it looked "like torture." The prison officials then dropped the blinds, blocking the view. The warden called off the execution, announcing the obvious: The doctor had observed a problem. He said Lockett's "vein had blown," and they did not know how much of the drugs he had received. Lockett died shortly thereafter of a heart attack when his heart literally burst in his chest. As the White House acknowledges, Lockett's execution fell short of the humane standards required when the death penalty is carried out.

This was not the first failed experiment in new lethal injection protocols – and not even in Oklahoma. The main drug used in earlier years of lethal injection, sodium thiopental, is no longer available because its manufacturers object to the use of medication for killing. This has led states to concoct new execution protocols and to scramble for alternative drugs.

The new protocols are no more scientific. Recent executions have relied on pentobarbital or midazolam. Both have terrible track records. The reports from observers of Lockett's execution, which used midazolam, have a strong resemblance to those from Dennis McGuire, whose botched execution in Ohio took place a few months earlier in January. After McGuire was reported by the prison as unconscious, he clenched his fist, heaved, struggled, and made horrible noises, according to witnesses. He was gasping, choking, and snoring in the 25 minutes it took to kill him. The Ohio death recipe is the same that Louisiana wants to follow.

We know that pentobarbital, the other drug used in recent executions, will cause excruciating pain in poorly regulated or contaminated batches. Before its new protocol, Oklahoma relied on pentobarbital. This was what was used to execute death row inmate Michael Lee Wilson, who cried out during his execution, "I feel my whole body burning."

These botched executions raise critical questions: Why did the execution go so wrong? Is there any reason to think that these particular protocols and combinations of drugs would ever work? Where did the drugs come from, and were the drugs themselves contaminated?

Lockett's lawyers had tried to get answers about the source and the quality of the drugs to be used well before his execution, and a lower court initially ruled that Oklahoma would have to provide these details. But after a wild and unbelievable litigation path – which involved a lawmaker threatening to impeach the state supreme court and the governor asserting that she was not required to follow the supreme court's ruling – the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the execution could proceed in a cloud of secrecy.

Where the drugs come from is a critical question. Many of the drugs – including pentobarbital – are not available through traditional manufacturers and can only be obtained through compounding pharmacies, where reliability and safety are major concerns. Eric Robert was executed in 2012 by South Dakota using compounded pentobarbital. After he was injected, he gasped heavily, snored loudly with his eyes open, and his skin turned purple. An expert pharmacologist has described this reaction as consistent with contaminated drugs.

States have tried to fend off these critical inquires about the sources of their drugs by relying on secrecy statutes or litigation. The Supreme Court has yet to wade into this area, but a federal appeals court allowed a Missouri execution to go forward under a total veil of secrecy about where the drugs came from. As a dissenting justice described, the "pharmacy on which Missouri relies could be nothing more than a high school class."

Last month, the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a treaty ratified by the United States in 1992, expressed concerns regarding the use of untested drugs in lethal injections. The committee noted "with concern reports about the administration, by some states, of untested lethal drugs to execute prisoners and the withholding of information about such drugs."

The committee recommended that the U.S. government "ensure that lethal drugs used for executions originate from legal, regulated sources, and are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and that information on the origin and composition of such drugs is made available to individuals scheduled for execution."

These recommendations – transparency and oversight by the F.D.A. of all drugs used in lethal injections – are important ones, but we need full answers about what has gone so horribly wrong. Governor Mary Fallin has acknowledged the need for investigation, but so far, she has failed to appoint an independent investigation. Oklahoma has given us no reason to have confidence that an executive investigation will provide any serious inquiry.

Before Oklahoma, or any other state, engages in executions, we need real answers from an independent investigation. Only with that information can states formulate the effective and transparent standards that the Constitution requires.

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Anonymous paramedic

Yeah right...if you can CALL that a human being then I think there's something almost as wrong with you as there was with the person who comMITS these heinous murders even by homicide's standards.
Like the guy in New York City who kidnapped an 8 y.o boy, strangled him to death (which is every bit as painful as a lethal injection if not more so because he wasn't unconscious to what was happening to him) and then cut up his body parts AFTERward and put them in his freezer.

Well excuse me if I don't feel sorry for these absolute raging assholes who do this but I'm still trying to process all the literal GARbage I saw two days ago at work. Where one person was shot 6 times and was dead on arrival, was pregnant and the baby was hit with two of the bullets, another person had 10 bullet wounds in him and was dead on the scene and the whole damn night, hour after grueling hour, was like the first two scenes. By the time I got off shift I was completely frayed along every edge I have.
For crying out loud, I think a lethal injection is BETter than 90 percent of what I see on any given night, and it's NOT clear that they suffered just because their BODIES appear to have done so. That would only be apparent if you could actually prove they were able to interpret their pain as well as felt it. Most people don't know it, but those are two different things.
A person can be in agony and not really be interpreting it through their conscious mind, which doesn't mean they're not feeling it but it DOES signify that the suffering is less intense on account of the fact they don't really know what's going on. Only a doctor would be able to tell us that though, and I don't have the strength right now that it would take to read whether a doctor said so.
But the ones who suffered two days ago did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to bring it on themselves, unless you're going to consider someone who was NOT in a gang but was caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting to be someone bringing about their suffering. And she didn't. Leastwise, she didn't kidnap, murder and then dismember someone, and that guy never WILL qualify for capital punishment. I'll just have to give my taxes to keep his stupid ass alive for the next 30 to 40 years.
That's no more fair than killing him by lethal injection. I think someone like THAT guy is more of a useless eater than a mentally ill person, which is one of the people HITler considered a useless eater.


I oppose the death penalty for a variety of practical and ethical reasons, and I support efforts to abolish it. But using the "inhumanity" of lethal injection as a basis for your opposition is totally off base.

As an ICU physician who routinely administers all of these drugs to my patients, I should know.

It's not uncommon to have difficulty finding a vein in which to administer drugs, and an experienced operator can quickly and almost painlessly place an IV in the femoral (groin) vein. Secondly, the drugs mentioned in your article, if given properly, will rapidly render a patient completely unconscious... and subsequently very dead, with no discernible pain or suffering. We are incredibly vigilant about how, when and where we use these drugs precisely because of their potential lethality.

The death penalty is a bad public policy and should be abolished for that reason. But you're dead wrong (pun mostly unintended) when you predicate your objections on the (in)humanity of lethal injection.


Stop portraying this heartless killers as victims, they deserve to suffer for what torture and pain they caused they're victims. The victims suffered terribly when they were murdered. These killers deserve what its coming.


With the logic YOU people use, I find it hard to believe you ever went to ANY college much less the fancy-ass ivory towers YOU people studied in.
Example: Botched execution; conclusion: stop ALL executions. No shades of gray or in between, just the black or white of all or nothing.
Why can't we just fix the broken parts? Why is the answer always "something didn't work the way we wanted, well let's throw away the whole thing."

My view is similar to the one in this article, except I DISagree with thinking he deserved to take 40 minutes to die.
But someone in my family was killed on the orders of Osama bin Laden, and I didn't feel sorry for him either when I heard he was killed while they were capturing him.


For the benefit of the medically challenged, those snoring breaths are called agonal respirations and I'm sure that his victim made the same ones after she was buried while she was still alive. She died of asphyxiation, which is JUST as painful as a heart attack and can in fact create a heart attack from the lack of oxygen.
If you're going to be so upset about HIS botched death, then I'm at least going to remind people of hers. Because you aren't saying a DAMN thing about her being buried while she was still alive and how he thought that was funny. That she was still breathing and crying and all.

from Richard, V...

Well, obviously something DID go wrong in this execution, and I'm sure if you asked the parents of the murder victim if that's what they envisioned when they asked that her killer receive capital punishment that they WOULDN'T have included the graphic depiction in the article. I'm equally certain they probably imagined it the way it's most often described, which I've always heard is "like putting an animal to sleep." They receive a muscle relaxant first, then anesthesia, then the killing potion.
I've never heard that lethal injections are this painful, I've always been told it's "relatively painless." And still I oppose capital punishment on the grounds that I think it's just another way of legalizing murder, the same as war is legalized murder that can hide behind the mask of 'warrior' or 'soldier' or 'savior of his country.' Or some other ridiculous but socially acceptable identifier.

My good friend's former wife agrees with capital punishment but she revealed that she had always thought of it as "a relatively painless procedure."
When I discussed it with her further, I discovered that she doesn't want to see an execution that takes 40 minutes to occur. Although she still feels no sorrow for Clayton Lockett but that's neither here nor there. She had no idea these situations were occurring with an increasing regularity.

My personal belief is that two wrongs don't make a right. Clayton Lockett was without a doubt plain wrong to do what he did. Nobody who calls themselves a "friend of humanity" is going to disagree that what he did was wrong and a stupid choice to make.
But how does returning the favor to him make his horrible wrong into a right? I would ask how does it even feel like "justice" to anyone? I'd venture to say it's more like revenge, not justice, because there's no real way you can get justice for a homicide. Not even the death of the perpetrator can justify what was taken because there's no greater asset than life. You learn that fact with an extremely painful clarity when you go to war and watch people come gunning for your friends. Killing more people after they kill your buddies feels like revenge, not justice. Justice would feel different and the only fairness that could come from the situation is if the person lost was returned to you. That doesn't happen in war. Only the more careful consideration of getting us into the next war can "justify" the deaths of so many people in previous conflicts. I don't see much of that happening either.
Violence begets violence, if I may sound incredibly trite about it. Nonetheless, it's true.
The hatred and violence have to stop somewhere, and I'm willing to be one of the people who starts the process.
It's the least I can do for all of my comrades who returned from the war in body bags.

Anonymous paramedic

BTW I take exception to that expert's comment. When they train you at Paramedic Level to insert IV's one of the things they impress on you repeatedly are the 12 things that can go wrong when you're doing it and how to avoid making those mistakes. One of the 12 is "looking for signs of contamination," which in IV insertion will be apparent by looking at the bag of fluid. The main way of knowing the mixture is contaminated is finding cloudy fluid. Cloudy fluid, if I may add, will be so goddam obvious even a great big dope could see its existence.
So what's the expert implying: That the executioner and his team were so inept at doing their job that they were even too boneheaded to check for fluid consistency and the date on the package and for any irregularities to rule out possible contamination?

If that's true there can only be one possible reason that could occur and that's if they're skimping on the budget they use to carry out executions.
And if THAT'S the case then I have no problem saying that it's almost certainly the goddam CHINTZ-ass Republicans fault this whole thing happened. Them and their "we WANT all these programs we just don't want to pay for them" egotistical attitude.
I grew up in a pack of Republicans; everyone in my family is the old-school Republican, with the exception of one person, who's 22 years old and thinks she knows everything.
But the attitude of wanting an execution program but wanting to skimp on its quality sounds so damn much like how they think that it's not funny and eerily like the truth of the matter in this case.
Well, I'll tell you what *I* want. I want one that works better than this one or I want you to stop spending my goddam taxes on a chintzy Execution Program.
If you guys (Republican family and friends) are going to insist on doing it this way, you're going to lose the entire program. There's no f'ing way I'm going to pay for cheap and chintzy programs when it comes to lethal injections.
The end.


There's definitely something wrong with this picture and it becomes MORE wrong as you follow the blue words so to speak.
I follow the blue words of these articles - after I've calmed down enough to be ABLE to - but in this case it's helped nothing.
I used to live with a man whose profession it was to make new drugs that would then be approved by the FDA and sometimes patented.
I followed the blue word about compounding pharmacies and the information made no sense. There's never been a case where you DON'T have to get accreditation when putting a drug on the market unless the drug has some special reason for moving fast into the system, and the only ones that qualified were medications for Aids and other terminal diseases.
And since when has pentobarbital been a mystery drug? As a paramedic, I've known about pentobarbital for ages. It's a 5-chain barbiturate. I believe that's right but won't commit to that answer. The guy I lived with called drugs that start with pento 5-chain chemical structures. Consequently, I've no idea why the Death Penalty Information Center is calling it a mystery drug but maybe I'm missing information. It's not like I'm in the best mood tonight after seeing some macho pig trying to score with my daughter no matter how many times she tried to shoot him down.
That aside, I'm just saying that something in this research is NOT adding up. I'm a diligent person though; I'm not going to stop until I find out more of what happened.
Because contrary to the opinion of anti-death penalty people, I DO want it to happen fast or not at all. I'm no monster, like it seems SOME pro-death penalty people are.


I'm starting to wish a Clayton Lockett would come into the lives of everyone defending him, so they can finally know what it feels like to live the freakin' nightmare he threw into her parents' faces when he killed their only child.
I thought the statement, made by one of the people who knew Stephanie Neiman, that "hopefully everyone defending him will meet their own Clayton Lockett and they'll get to see what people like themselves have done to her and her family" was going overboard but not after seeing what his attorneys have been doing to defend him right up to the end - for the salary they've been receiving right up to his end.
Their spectacular lack of concern for the victim makes them look like jackasses, not that I believe they'll especially care that they do, but they look like Oscar-winning jerk-faces.
Defending a person because it's his constitutional right ISN'T the same as ACTUALLY feeling sorry for him. I do things I don't like to all the time, but I don't forget to mention that other people have been torn to pieces over it or that it's the only thing I can do.

Mindy B.

I don't want to pay for a person to take 40 minutes to die. I don't want to pay for their body to suffer even if their mind doesn't know what's happening.
I don't feel sorry for Clayton Lockett. My dad was murdered and they never found his body. They know he was there the day it happened but we've never found earthly remains for him.
But I know my dad would never want anybody to suffer death just because he did. He was against capital punishment. I am too and that's why.


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