Category Archives: Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s Botched Execution

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

An Oklahoma inmate’s execution failed tonight after the delivery of the lethal injection drugs was botched and the inmate suffered a massive heart attack on the gurney.

Clayton Lockett, 38, was slated to be the first of two executions tonight in Oklahoma, in what was going to be the state’s first double execution since 1937 (more background on the crime and lead-up to the executions here). However, as reporters waited for confirmation of a time of death almost an hour after the injection was scheduled to proceed, it became clear that something had gone wrong.

Finally reporters were told that the execution had been halted about 20 minutes after the first drug was injected, when Lockett was still moving and mumbling on the gurney.

According to Associated Press reporter Bailey Elise McBride, whose Twitter feed is a blow-by-blow account of what the media was told following the procedure, “Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.”

“It was extremely difficult to watch,” Lockett’s attorney, David Autry, told the AP

More from McBride’s AP account:

“There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having that (desired) effect, and the doctor observed the line at that time and determined the line had blown,” Patton said at a news conference afterward, referring to Lockett’s vein rupturing.

After that, an official who was inside the death chamber lowered the blinds, preventing those in the viewing room from seeing what was happening.

Patton then made a series of phone calls before calling a halt to the execution.

KFOR in Oklahoma provided a timeline (which Andrew Cohen tidied up for his take for The Atlantic):

6:23 PM – Prison officials raise the blinds. Execution begins.

6:28 PM – Inmate shivering, sheet shaking.  Breathing deep.

6:29 PM – Inmate blinking and gritting his teeth.  Adjusts his head.

6:30 PM – Prison officials check to see if inmate is unconscious.  Doctor says, “He’s not unconscious.”  Inmate says “I’m not.”  Female prison official says, “Mr. Lockett is not unconscious.”

6:32 PM – Inmate’s breathing is normal, mouth open, eyes shut. For a second time, prison officials check to see if inmate is unconscious.

6:33 PM – Doctor says, “He is unconscious.” Prison official says “Mr. Lockett is unconscious.”

6:34 PM – Inmate’s mouth twitches.  No sign of breathing.

6:35 PM – Mouth movement.

6:36 PM – Inmate’s head moves from side to side, then lifts his head off the bed.

6:37 PM – Inmate lifts his head and feet slightly off the bed.  Inmate tries to say something, mumbles while moving body.

6:38 pm – More movement by the inmate. At this point the inmate is breathing heavily and appears to be struggling.

6:39 PM – Inmate tries to talk. Says “man” and appears to be trying to get up. Doctor checks on inmate. Female prison official says, “We are going to lower the blinds temporarily.” Prison phone rings. Director of Prisons Robert Patton answers the phone and leaves the room—taking three state officials with him.

Minutes later—the director of prisons comes back into the room and tells the eyewitnesses that there has been a vein failure. He says, “The chemical did not make it into the vein of the prisoner. Under my authority, we are issuing a stay of execution.”

Charles Warner, originally set to be the second execution of the night at 8 p.m., has had his execution postponed for 14 days while an investigation is conducted.

This sort of prolonged, failed execution is exactly what attorneys for both men were afraid of when they filed appeals asserting their client’s constitutional right to know the source of the drugs being used to execute them. The claims led to a heated back and forth over the past two weeks, exposing tensions in the state’s leadership.

Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, released a statement following the failed execution:

“After weeks of Oklahoma refusing to disclose basic information about the drugs for tonight’s lethal injection procedures, tonight, Clayton Lockett was tortured to death.

‘Without question, we must get complete answers about what went wrong. There must be an independent investigation conducted by a third-party entity, not the Department of Corrections. We also need an autopsy by an independent pathologist and full transparency about the results of its findings. Additionally, the state must disclose complete information about the drugs, including their purity, efficacy, source and the results of any testing. Until much more is known about tonight’s failed experiment of an execution, no execution can be permitted in Oklahoma.”

Related Reading:

A Breakdown of Tonight’s Double Execution in Oklahoma

Man Dies of Heart Attack After Botched Execution

Oklahoma Postpones Execution After First Is Botched

What Happens to the Death Penalty When Lethal Injection Isn’t Quick and Painless?

How Oklahoma’s Botched Execution Affects the Death-Penalty Debate

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A Breakdown of Tonight’s Double Execution in Oklahoma

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. For the most current updates, see this blog’s Twitter feed.

UPDATE: The execution of Clayton Lockett has been ‘botched’ according to his attorney and the execution of Charles Warner has been stayed. For the latest, see “Oklahoma’s Botched Execution

After weeks of legal wrangling and confusion in the courts, the way has been cleared for the Oklahoma Corrections Department to execute not one, but two men tonight, in what will be the first double execution in 14 years and and the first in Oklahoma since 1937. The last time two inmates were put to death in the same state in the same day was in Texas in 2000.

Thirty-eight-year-old Clayton Lockett was convicted in the shooting death of Stephanie Neiman in 1999. According to the Tulsa World, “Lockett shot Neiman twice with a shotgun before having an accomplice, Shawn Mathis, bury her alive.” Forty-six-year-old Charles Warner “was convicted in the 1997 death of his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter,” according to NBC News.

The state slated Lockett for execution at 6 p.m. central time, followed by Warner two hours later at 8 p.m. Lockett made a last meal request but it was denied because it exceeded the $15 dollar price limit. The warden offered him a steak dinner from Western Sizzlin instead, but Lockett declined.

The unusual double execution, as well as the heated legal scuffling, has provoked concern and criticism both locally and nationwide. Accordingly, a group of protestors rallied outside the Governor’s mansion at the time of the first execution.

Photo by Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The issue in the legal back and forth was not the inmates’ innocence, but rather over the secrecy surrounding the source of the drugs that would be used to execute them. Lawyers for both men argued that they had a right to know the manufacturer of the chemicals that will be used in their injections.

The drugs used in lethal injections have become the latest front in the fight against executions and the death penalty. Most execution drugs are made in Europe, and many European drug makers don’t like the idea of their products being used in executions. Others have had to face criticism from groups such as Reprieve, which actively seeks out information on who makes the drugs and makes that information public. This has caused many European drug makers to cease producing the drugs and/or refuse to sell them to prisons. So prisons and corrections departments are increasingly searching for new sources for the chemicals, or resort to compounding pharmacies, which according to The Guardian are less well regulated than traditional drug manufacturers. Corrections departments have also begun to create policies to protect the anonymity of the drug makers, presumably so the company won’t face the same public outcry the European companies faced.

(For a breakdown of the specific drugs at issue in Oklahoma, Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer has an excellent review here.)

These changes have caused concern among defense attorneys, who argue that without knowing the source of the drugs, there is a greater possibility that the chemicals are contaminated or expired, which would cause unnecessary suffering, which is unconstitutional under the eighth amendment.  Charges like this have been filed in other states, such as Texas and Missouri (those claims were all rejected) but in Oklahoma, they provoked a whole new level of controversy, exposing “long-running tension among Oklahoma’s three branches of government,” according to Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy.

Andrew Cohen breaks down why things are so tense the best, so I’ll defer to him:

Things got complicated because there are two high courts in Oklahoma — one that focuses on “criminal” matters and one that focuses on “civil” matters. The criminal court, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, said it had no jurisdiction to look at the injection secrecy matter. The civil court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court, said that the Court of Criminal Appeals did have jurisdiction.

There was open conflict between the courts. The state Supreme Court criticized the Court of Criminal Appeals for not accepting the appeal and for not halting the executions. The criminal appeals court criticized the state Supreme Court for intruding upon what its judges considered the purely “criminal” matter of execution protocols.

The open warfare within the state judiciary — unseemly, in particular, in the context of capital cases — surely contributed to the chaos that came next.

Here’s my attempt at reconstructing a timeline of the back and forth. It gets a little weird, so try to keep up and if you spot any errors, shout them out in the comments.

  • March: Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish rules that the secrecy of the drug source violates the inmates’ rights under the state constitution.
  • Friday, April 18: The state appeals that ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, saying the ruling is “an ‘overbroad interpretation’ of the right to access,” according to The Guardian.
  • The Oklahoma Supreme Court said they do not have the authority to stay the executions, and transferred the matter to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
  • The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, saying THEY don’t have the authority to stay the executions, because the inmates challenged the execution procedures in civil court, not criminal. Their ruling also called out the state supreme court, as detailed by Jurist columnist Adam R. Banner: “As if it were not enough to defy the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s supposed ‘final’ determination of jurisdiction, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Supreme Court did ‘not have the power to supersede a statute and manufacture jurisdiction.’ “
  • Monday, April 21: The State Supreme Court decides they now must say something, and after a 5-4 vote, issues a stay for Clayton Lockett, who was originally set for execution on April 22. “The ‘rule of necessity’ now demands that we step forward,” the Court’s opinion says. “We can deny jurisdiction, or we can leave the appellants with no access to the courts for resolution of their ‘grave’ constitutional claims….As uncomfortable as this matter makes us, we refuse to violate our oaths of office and to leave the appellants with no access to the courts, their constitutionally guaranteed measure.” The stay also puts Charles Warner’s execution on hold.
  • Monday, April 21: From Andrew Cohen: “Just hours after the Oklahoma Supreme Court halted the executions, the Republican governor of the state, Mary Fallin, proclaimed that the executive branch would not honor the judicial stay preventing the executions. The Supreme Court’s ‘attempted stay of execution is outside the constitutional authority of that body,’ she declared, so ‘I cannot give effect to the order by that honorable court.’ “
  • Tuesday, April 22: From Andrew Cohen: Republican state lawmaker Rep. Mike Christian, introduced impeachment proceedings against the five state Supreme Court justices who had voted for the stays of execution.
  • Tuesday, April 22: From the Associated Press: “In a development reflecting the rising tension between the executive and judicial branches of state government, Gov. Mary Fallin granted a one-week stay of execution to Lockett on Tuesday afternoon, saying the Oklahoma Supreme Court overstepped its authority when it issued a separate stay. Fallin issued an executive order delaying Lockett’s execution until April 29. Fallin claims in her order that the stay issued by the state’s high court is ‘outside the constitutional authority of that body.’ “
  • Wednesday, April 23: The State Supreme Court reject the lower court’s decision that preventing Lockett and Warner from knowing the source of the drugs used in their lethal injections will violate their constitutional rights, clearing the way for the executions to proceed.

Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, released a statement today in advance of her client’s execution, writing “tonight, in a climate of secrecy and political posturing, Oklahoma intends to kill two death row prisoners using an experimental new drug protocol, including a paralytic, making it impossible to know whether the executions will comport with the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual suffering. Because the issue of secrecy in lethal injection has not been substantively addressed by the courts, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner will be executed without basic information about the experimental combination of drugs used in their deaths.”

Related Reading: 

3 Letters to the Editor on Tonight’s Double Execution

Tension Grows Among Oklahoma Courts, Legislature

Oklahoma to Proceed With Lethal Injection Amid Confusion Within Courts

Death Row Inmates Won’t Be Told the Source of the Drugs Used to Kill Them


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Yesterday’s Execution: Brian Darrell Davis, Oklahoma

From Reuters:

Oklahoma executed a man on Tuesday convicted of raping and stabbing his girlfriend’s mother to death during a late night fight in 2001, a state corrections department spokesman said.

Brian Darrell Davis, 38, was pronounced dead at 6:25 p.m. CDT after a lethal injection at a state prison in McAlester, said Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

He was the second Oklahoma inmate executed in two weeks and the third in 2013. Davis was also the 17th person to be executed in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Asked if he would like to say any last words, Massie said that Davis replied, “Yes, I would. First I’d like to say that I give the glory to God.”

He then quoted several Bible verses and added, “I shall not die but live. His word is my will and I let his will be done. I give God the last word.”

Davis did not request a last meal, according to Massie.

Davis was convicted of stabbing Josephine “Jody” Sanford, 52, to death after raping her at the apartment he shared with her daughter, Stacey Sanford.

Davis said he returned home from a club early that morning and discovered his live-in girlfriend Stacey and their 3-year-old daughter were gone. Davis said he and Jody Sanford then had consensual sex, argued and fought, and he admitted to stabbing her.

Authorities said she had six stab wounds and a broken jaw.

Davis said Sanford had attacked him and he never intended to kill her. However, jurors found the killing to be especially heinous, atrocious or cruel and Davis was sentenced to death.

On June 13, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin denied Davis’ request for clemency, rejecting a parole board recommendation that his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

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Tonight’s Execution: Steven Ray Thacker, Oklahoma

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Editor’s note: I’m traveling at the moment, so this story will not be updated in real time like the others are. Apologies to anyone coming here for details. It will be updated, but not in the usual timely manner.

From Dan Holtmeyer, for the Associated Press. View the original article here.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma death-row inmate convicted of three murders in three states is set for execution this week after waiving his right to seek clemency from the state’s parole board.

Steven Ray Thacker, 42, would be the first inmate executed in Oklahoma this year. He is scheduled to die Tuesday night at the state penitentiary in McAlester for the December 1999 death of Laci Dawn Hill, 25, in Mayes County.

Hill’s death was the first pinned on Thacker in a three-day period. He was sentenced to life the Jan. 1, 2000, death of a man in Missouri and was condemned to die in Tennessee for killing a man the next day.

Authorities say Thacker’s crimes began as a scheme to steal money from Hill, going to her house under the guise of checking out a pool table mentioned in a newspaper ad but threatening her with a knife.

Thacker’s plans changed, he later confessed in court. He said he took her to a cabin, raped her and stabbed her in the chest twice. He also stole her debit and credit cards and used them to buy Christmas presents for his family.

Fearing discovery, police said, Thacker fled to Missouri, where he broke into several houses, including one owned by Forrest Reed Boyd, 24. Court documents indicate Boyd arrived while Thacker was in his home, and Thacker allegedly stabbed him several times in the back before taking Boyd’s car.

Thacker then fled to Tennessee, where authorities say he killed Ray Patterson, 52, after Patterson arrived to help Thacker tow the car and discovered Thacker’s credit cards were stolen.

Karen Cunningham, a victim impact coordinator for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, said members of all three victims’ families plan to be present at the execution. She couldn’t say which, saying plans could change until the actual event.

Thacker’s lawyer, Ray Bauman, declined comment. Prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment.

In testimony to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, the families of Patterson and Hill painted a picture of permanent grief and shattered lives.

“He took my superman. He took my hero,” Donna Breece, one of Patterson’s three children, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They don’t get better. You just learn to live with it and God makes it bearable.”

Breece said she believes her father has forgiven Thacker, and so has she.

“It was like he still had ahold of me, and I don’t want to live like that,” she said. “It was just sickening, it was awful. I had to forgive him.”

Breece said she regretted Thacker’s execution only because it would cause grief to his own family. She didn’t plan to attend.

“There’s no happiness in what’s going to happen Tuesday,” she said. “My closure is when I die. I won’t have to live this or put up with it anymore.”

Related Reading: 

Steven Ray Thacker to be Put to Death Tuesday – First OK Execution This Year

Oklahoma Execution of Steven Ray Thacker Set to Go Ahead Tuesday

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Tonight’s Execution: George Ochoa, Oklahoma

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

UPDATED: George Ochoa has been executed.

Oklahoma death row inmate George Ochoa, 38, was executed tonight at the state prison in McAlester for the 1993 shooting deaths of a couple in Oklahoma City.

Members of the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty protest George Ochoa's execution.

Members of the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty protest George Ochoa’s execution.

Ochoa was convicted, along with Osbaldo Torres, in the deaths of Francisco Morales and Maria Yanez, who were shot to death in their bed during a home invasion on July 12, 1993.

Torres, a Mexican citizen, was also sentenced to death, however, his sentence was commuted to life without parole in 2004 by then-Governor Brad Henry, after the Mexican government raised concerns that he was not allowed to speak with the Mexican consulate after his arrest.

Ochoa’s attorney had argued that he is insane and should not be executed. According to a Chicago Tribune article, Ochoa’s lawyer, James Hankins, “has said in court documents that Ochoa has become so irrational that he can no longer communicate with him.”

The U.S. 10th Circuit of Appeals denied Ochoa’s claim that his mental health should prevent him from being executed and on Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court also denied his appeal.

Ochoa maintained his innocence in the crimes and asked the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to grant him clemency. The board rejected his request by a vote of 4-1.

From a story by Sean Murphy in The Oklahoman: ” ‘I didn’t kill those people,’ Ochoa told the board via video conference from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester during the Nov. 16 hearing. Ochoa also claimed he was being ‘shocked’ and ‘tortured’ by one of his victims, a claim that prosecutors say may be an attempt to feign incompetence. He made similar allegations of being tortured and burned in a handwritten letter last month to the 10th Circuit Court.”

For his last meal, Ochoa requested a meat lover’s pizza and a large Coke. According to an account of the execution in the McAlester News-Capital, Ochoa used his final statement to proclaim his innocence. From the story:

OSP Deputy Warden Art Lightle asked Ochoa if he had any last words.

“I’m innocent,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa spoke no other words than those.

At 6:02 p.m. Lightle said, “Let the execution begin.”

He was pronounced dead at 6:07 p.m. CST.

Ochoa was the 6th execution in the state in 2012 and the 41st in the United States. The execution was protested by members of the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Related Reading:

Oklahoma to Execute Inmate for 1993 Home-Invasion Killings

Okla. Man Set to Die for Couple’s Shooting Deaths

OSP Death Row Inmate George Ochoa Set for Execution Today

Courts Reject Oklahoma Inmate’s Try to Stop Execution

Oklahoma Executes George Ochoa for the 1993 Shooting Deaths of Couple While Children at Home

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Tonight’s Execution: Garry Allen

UPDATE: Garry Allen has been executed.

While most Americans were watching the election results, Oklahoma carried out the state’s fifth execution of the year with the lethal injection of 56-year-old Garry Allen at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Allen was sentenced to death for the November 1986 killing of his fiancée, Lawanna Gail Titsworth.

According to The Oklahoman, Allen showed up at the daycare where he and Titsworth’s two sons were and argued with her. He shot her in the chest, left, then returned and shot her three more times in the back. When Allen was discovered by police later, a struggle ensued and Allen was shot in the eye.

Allen’s attorneys argued that he was mentally incompetent for execution and that he was insane when he entered a guilty plea in the original trial, however a federal district court judge rejected Allen’s appeal in September. His attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that appeal was denied.

Allen had two previous execution dates already, one on May 19, 2005 and one earlier this year on Feb. 16.

Members of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty held a rally yesterday at the state Capitol where they called on Gov. Mary Fallin to halt the execution. However, the governor did not intervene. The governor also denied a recommendation from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to commute Allen’s sentence to life without parole. The board made the recommendation in April 2005, but earlier this year Fallin denied it.

According to the Washington Post, “Allen appeared confused moments after prison officials lifted a curtain separating the death chamber from witnesses. Slurring his words, Allen spoke for two minutes in an address that mentioned both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.”

Rachel Peterson of the McAlester News-Capital has a detailed account of Allen’s final moments.  From her report:

Allen then began to talk. He rambled unintelligibly about Obama and Romney. Allen’s garbled speech about the presidential race coincided with a loud banging noise as the other inmates in H-Unit said their good-byes.

“Obama won two out of three counties. It’s going to be a very close race,” Allen said just before Oklahoma State Penitentiary Deputy Warden Art Lightle asked him if he had a last statement.

Allen looked at Lightle and asked, “Huh?” Then he continued in his garbled speech and then again raised his head and said, “Hi,” to his attorneys. Allen’s unintelligible ramblings continued. He spoke about Obama and Jesus.

“I hope that more realize Jesus is the son of God — the only son of God. Jesus is the one and only savior,” Allen said. This statement was followed by more unintelligible ramblings.

Lightle told Allen that his two minutes were coming to an end. Allen turned his head to look at Lightle and asked, “What?” Then he continued his garbled speech.

One of Allen’s attorneys began to get teary eyed and she leaned down and placed her head in her hands. At 6:02 p.m., when she sat back up, and as Allen’s unintelligible talking continued, Lightle said, “Let the execution begin.”

Allen again turned his head and looked at Lightle and asked, “Huh?”

Then he lifted his head and looked at the witnesses, fixing his eyes on his attorneys. “Hi,” he said to them again. And again they both lifted their hands and waved at him.

His garbled speech continued until the concoction of execution drugs apparently affected his system. He turned and lifted his head one last time and looked at Lightle. He made a loud, strained grunting sound and laid his head back down on the gurney.

Allen’s time of death was 6:10 p.m. CT.

Titsworth’s family issued a statement following the execution, saying, “Our beloved Gail, daughter, sister and mother of two young boys, was taken from our family tragically and senselessly due to domestic violence,” the statement said. “For over 25 years, we have waited for justice to be served and for this sentence to be carried out. We are thankful to close the book on this chapter today but we will never stop grieving the loss of Gail.”

Related Reading:
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