Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern over Agonizing Death of Clayton Lockett in Death Chamber in the United States

May 6, 2014

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is deeply concerned by the troubling information received on the agonizing death in an execution chamber in the state of Oklahoma of Clayton Lockett, who was apparently improperly sedated and suffered excruciating pain until dying of a heart attack. The Commission calls on the United States and the state of Oklahoma to conduct an independent and impartial investigation of the death of Mr. Lockett and to stay pending executions until the state’s execution protocol is fully reviewed.

According to publicly available information, on April 29, 2014, Clayton Lockett was executed by lethal injection in the state of Oklahoma. Following the state’s protocol, at 6:23 p.m. Mr. Locket was administered the first of three drugs intended to render him unconscious. Ten minutes into the process Mr. Locket was reportedly declared unconscious and the team started to administer the next two drugs, a paralyzing agent and a drug intended to make the heart stop.

The information available indicates that, while these drugs were being administered, Mr. Lockett began to gasp, writhe and shake his foot over a three minute period. At 6:37 he allegedly tried to lift his head. According to witnesses, Mr. Lockett mumbled at three separate moments, the third time calling out “oh, man”. Officials reportedly pulled the curtain in front of the witnesses. At 6:56 p.m. the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections called off the execution. Mr. Lockett died in the execution chamber of a heart attack at 7:06 p.m., 43 minutes after the execution proceeding begun.

According to the spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, “[…] it appears that a vein blew up or exploded, it collapsed, and the drugs were not getting into the system like they were supposed to.” A memorandum issued by the director of the Department of Corrections later revealed that Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin indicated that the Department of Public Safety would review the state’s execution procedures and determine the cause of Mr. Lockett’s death.

According to publicly available information, President Barack Obama said the circumstances of Mr. Lockett’s execution were “deeply troubling” and announced that he will ask the Attorney General, Eric Holder, to analyze problems with the implementation of the death penalty. President Obama said the death penalty’s application in the United States is problematic, with evidence of racial bias and the eventual exoneration of some death-row inmates. The IACHR welcomes this important statement by President Obama and hopes that this process is a step toward the gradual disappearance of the death penalty in the United States.

As part of its mandate to monitor the human rights situation in the United State and through its individual case system, the Inter-American Commission has received troubling information on numerous defects in several states’ lethal injection protocols in the United States. In particular, the IACHR has received complaints regarding the absence of meaningful federal oversight of the execution protocols and the fact that lethal injections are reportedly administered by individuals with no training in anesthesia. A report issued by the ACLU and the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law indicates that, in Texas, executions are less regulated than animal euthanasia.

In several states, including Oklahoma, the type of drugs used as well as its source is not in the public domain. Further, as drug shortages have made it difficult for states to obtain the drugs used in lethal injections, some have turned to unknown sources, in particular, compounding pharmacies. Some states have also imposed secrecy on its execution protocols.

According to the Inter-American Commission’s jurisprudence, “the State has the duty to inform the person sentenced to death, in a timely manner, about the drug and method of execution that will be used, so he or she is not precluded from litigating the right to be executed in a manner devoid of cruel and unusual suffering.” In this respect, the IACHR has ruled that “in capital cases the State has an enhanced obligation to ensure that the person sentenced to death has access to all the relevant information regarding the manner in which he or she is going to die. In particular, the convicted person must have access to information related to the precise procedures to be followed, the drugs and doses to be used in case of executions by lethal injection, and the composition of the execution team as well as the training of its members.”

The Inter-American Commission condemns the agonizing death of Clayton Lockett and reminds the United States of its international obligation not to expose persons under its jurisdiction to cruel and unusual punishment. The Commission calls on the United States and the state of Oklahoma to conduct an independent and impartial investigation of the death of Mr. Lockett and to indefinitely stay pending executions until the state’s execution protocol is fully reviewed. The IACHR also urges all states that use the lethal injection as a method of execution, to disclose the drugs used, their source, the execution protocol, as well as the composition and training of the execution team.

The Commission reiterates the recommendation made in its report “The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition” published in 2012, that States impose a moratorium on executions as a step toward the gradual disappearance of this penalty. While a majority of the member States of the Organization of American States has abolished capital punishment, a substantial minority retains it. In this regard, the Commission notes that the United States is currently the only country in the Western hemisphere to carry out executions.

The Inter-American Commission welcomes that eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already abolished the death penalty in the United States (Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin) and that some states have a moratorium imposed by the governor or the courts. The Commission encourages the state of Oklahoma to follow in the abolition or moratorium of the death penalty.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 49/14