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Execution drugs shrouded in secrecy
02:19 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Death row prisoner Clayton Lockett, who ultimately died after Oklahoma officials botched his execution in 2014, played a role in helping his execution team try to find a viable vein, according to new documents released last week.

A paramedic charged with starting an IV for Lockett on April 29th, told state officials that on the night of the execution she was having difficulty inserting the needle.

The paramedic, whose name is not revealed, said Lockett was “very cooperative” and that at one point the prisoner said, “I’ve got a vein in my leg – in my right leg.”

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The paramedic said she told Lockett she didn’t like using such veins “because they cause a lot of clots.”

“Does it really matter?” Lockett responded, according to a transcript.

The interview with the paramedic – conducted by state officials investigating the execution – and thousands of other documents were released to the Tulsa World last week pursuant to an open records lawsuit. They tell a harrowing story of Lockett’s last moments.

He was declared dead of a heart attack more than an hour after being strapped to the gurney.

After the execution, the state stayed all pending executions while it investigated what went wrong. A September report issued by the Department of Public Safety concluded that “viability of the IV access point was the single greatest factor that contributed to the difficulty in administering the execution drugs.”

But the documents obtained by the Tulsa World mark the first time actual transcripts have been made available to the public.

“The documents paint a picture of chaos in the execution chamber,” said Cary Aspinwall of the Tulsa World who is reviewing the documents.

“The execution team didn’t have the size needles they needed, they couldn’t find veins that would work and the drugs didn’t start taking effect when they thought they would,” Aspinwall said.

At one point the paramedic – who had participated in several executions in the past – described the atmosphere in the chamber.

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“There was an air of urgency,” she said. “The quick, quick. Got to get it done. Got to get it done. And got to make sure that everything is done right.”

She told state investigators that in one of several attempts to find a vein, she realized she didn’t have the proper tape to secure the IV.

“They didn’t pick up on what kind of tape I was wanting,” she said according to the transcript. The paramedic said Lockett admitted that although he had been purposely dehydrating himself before the scheduled execution, he had some viable veins. Lockett was on death row for the 1999 brutal murder of Stephanie Neiman.

The state, after releasing the results of its investigation, adopted a new execution protocol, with procedures meant to ensure that execution team members are able to properly insert an IV line.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt defended the state’s procedure in January. “Oklahoma’s execution protocol has been affirmed as constitutional by two federal courts and has successfully been implemented in Oklahoma as well as more than 10 similar executions in Florida,” he said in a statement.

But lawyers for other inmates have challenged the drug protocol, and the Supreme Court will hear the case this spring, focusing specifically on one of the drugs, midazolam, that is meant to cause unconsciousness.

“Midazolam, the first drug in the three-drug formula used by Oklahoma, is not capable of producing the necessary, deep anesthesia to insure that a prisoner will not experience severe pain, needless suffering and a lingering death during the lethal injection process,” said Dale Baich, a lawyer for the inmates.

Although Lockett’s execution is not squarely in front of the Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, expressed concerns with midazolam in court papers.

“The Lockett execution went poorly, to say the least,” Sotomayor wrote.

The case will be argued on April 29th, exactly one year after Lockett’s execution.