Criminal sentenced to death in US by means of injection dies of heart attack, raising death penalty issue

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Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died during a botched execution on Tuesday, minutes after a doctor had called a halt to the procedure, raising more questions about new death penalty cocktails used by the state and others.

Thirteen minutes after administering a lethal injection at the state’s death chamber in McAlester, Lockett lifted his head and started mumbling. The doctor on scene halted the execution, said state corrections department spokesman Jerry Massie.

Lockett died of an apparent massive heart attack about 40 minutes after the procedure started, he said.

“We believe that a vein was blown and the drugs weren’t working as they were designed to. The director ordered a halt to the execution,” Massie said.

The troubled execution was expected to have national implications, with lawyers for death row inmates having argued that new lethal injection cocktails used in Oklahoma and other states could cause undue suffering and violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Witness Ziva Branstetter told MSNBC Lockett was thrashing about and appeared to be in pain. The state blocked off the scene from witnesses a few minutes after the troubles started by drawing a curtain on the execution chamber.

“This could be a real turning point in the whole debate as people get disgusted by this sort of thing,” said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment, Reuters reports.

The execution had been put on hold for several weeks due to a legal fight over a new cocktail of chemicals for the lethal injection, with lawyers arguing the state was withholding crucial information about the drugs to be used.

Last week, the state Oklahoma Supreme Court lifted stays of execution for Lockett and another inmate who was also scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, saying the state had provided them with enough information about the lethal injection cocktail to meet constitutional requirements.

Oklahoma had set up a new lethal injection procedure and cocktail of chemicals earlier this year after it was no longer able to obtain the drugs it had once used for executions.

Oklahoma and other states have been scrambling to find new suppliers and chemical combinations after drug makers, mostly in Europe, imposed sales bans because they objected to having medications made for other purposes being used in lethal injections.

Attorneys for death row inmates have argued that the drugs used in Oklahoma and other states could cause unnecessarily painful deaths, which would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the US Constitution.

In order to obtain drugs used for execution, Oklahoma and other states have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are lightly regulated agencies that combine chemicals for medical purposes.

Lawyers for death row inmates have argued there may be problems with purity and potency of the chemicals that comes from these compounding pharmacies, raising questions about whether they should be used to prepare lethal injection drugs.

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