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May 8, 2014

Ex-warden blames prisoner for slow execution

McALESTER, Okla. — The former warden of Oklahoma State Penitentiary said last week’s execution of Clayton Lockett wasn’t “botched," as many have claimed, and says any problems were caused in part by the inmate’s own actions.

"It was an untimely execution," said Randall Workman, who retired as warden in 2012. "It worked. He died. The bottom line is the drugs did what they were supposed to do. They killed him.”

Workman was not involved in the Lockett execution but oversaw 32 in his five years as warden. They were also administered with a three-drug lethal injection, though the state at the time used the barbiturate drug pentobarbital to render condemned prisoners unconscious.

This execution marked the first time Oklahoma replaced that with the drug Midazolam.

Workman said he "wouldn't change a thing" about the state's procedure, despite controversy surrounding Lockett's execution.

He said the biggest “drawback" was prison officials' attempt to stop the procedure when Lockett didn’t die as quickly as expected.

He added, “I’m not being critical. I won’t be critical of the process because it’s a very difficult process.

"I think the people did their very best. I think just from my point of view that he was partially responsible, the inmate, and was somewhat successful in trying to circumvent the process.”

Prison officials halted the execution of Lockett, 38, when the new drug combination left him writhing and clenching his teeth in agony before he died of an apparent heart attack. A medical examiner in Dallas is conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Lockett was one of two inmates set to die April 29 in a rare double-execution. Gov. Mary Fallin has since issued a stay for the second inmate, Charles Warner, following the issues with Lockett’s death.

However, Fallin has defended Lockett's execution as deserved punishment for the violent kidnapping, rape and murder in June 1999 that sent him to death row.

Warner's attorneys have requested the state issue a six-month moratorium on all executions pending an investigation being conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety into Lockett’s death.

In a timeline released by the Department of Corrections after Lockett’s execution, prison officials said he began the day by fighting corrections officers, forcing them to subdue him with a Taser. He used a piece of metal to cut his arms and refused food.

Medical professionals were unable to find a viable vein for the IV tube used to administer the lethal drugs anywhere but in Lockett's groin. Prison officials said that vein collapsed during the execution procedure. Lockett died more than 40 minutes after the drugs were first injected.

Workman said Lockett contributed to his own troubles by probably fasting and cutting himself to complicate the execution.

“The fact that they wasn’t able to get veins is an indication he probably wasn’t taking any liquid, possibly days up to the event," he said. "He was probably dehydrating himself.”

Prison policy prohibits officials from force-feeding offenders who fast in days leading to an execution, he said. In cutting himself, Lockett was either trying to lose blood or make it difficult for those conducting the execution to find a vein, Workman said.

Workman — now retired to a remote area of southeastern Oklahoma  — said the state shouldn't change its lethal injection procedures, despite the controversy surrounding last week's execution.

"I would look at the medication (dosage), but as far as the blown vein, he contributed to that," he said. "The thing about it is, (the drug) went through the muscle. It just took longer to accomplish because of that, but it accomplished its task. It would have been a lot quicker had it been in the vein.”

Thenjiwe McHarris, senior campaigner against the death penalty for Amnesty International, which opposes executions, said there’s no doubt Lockett’s execution was “botched.”

People should not accept what happened last week, she said.

“I think it’s time for people who support the death penalty to really take a moment, and it’s time to acknowledge just how cruel the death penalty is,” she said. “There is no humane way to take a life.”

Janelle Stecklein is Statehouse Bureau Chief for CNHI's Oklahoma Newspapers. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com

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