Clayton Lockett's Botched Lethal Injection Wasn't The First Time A U.S. Execution Went Horribly Wrong

After last week's botched execution, the state of Oklahoma has suspended the death penalty for six months. On April 29, Clayton Lockett, an inmate convicted on capital charges for a string of grisly crimes, was scheduled to be executed by an untested lethal injection cocktail. Lockett writhed, grimaced, and twitched throughout the administering of the drugs, and though the execution was halted, he died of a heart attack 48 minutes later. Despite what increased coverage of the issue may suggest, this execution isn't the first to be botched.

Lockett's execution was controversial before any of this. It was to be a double-execution — Lockett first, followed by Charles Warner. After the failure of a humane execution for Lockett, the Warner execution was called off, with Republican Governor Mary Fallin issuing a two-week postponement. Oklahoma's Attorney General E. Scott Pruit agreed Tuesday to a request from Warner's lawyers to suspend his sentence for six months, effectively meaning the state will be execution-free until at least November.

Throughout the history of American capital punishment, numerous accounts have been recorded across all different means of execution — lethal injections in the modern era, on top of a litany of horror stories from older, even grislier methods like electrocution.

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Death Penalty Information Center has an extensive (though not comprehensive) list of such examples, and it's equal parts illuminating and stomach-turning. One huge takeaway: even though the Oklahoma controversy revolves heavily around the state's use of replacement execution drugs, which remain shrouded in secrecy, even the old "humane" ones have potential to be anything but.

  • In 1992, Texas put convicted murderer Justin Lee May to death by lethal injection, but not without incident. Journalists described May as having a pronounced, violent reaction to the drugs, coughing and sputtering while straining against his bindings.
  • In 1997, Scott Dawn Carpenter suffered a seemingly painful execution at the hands of the state of Texas, according to witnesses, gasping, shaking, and spasming and as the drugs were administered.
  • In 2006, Joseph L. Clark of Ohio was the subject of a lethal injection which evidently went painfully wrong. After the vein tapped to administer the drugs collapsed, Clark reportedly lifted his head and repeated "It don't work" five times as his arm swelled up with fluid. The curtains were pulled, and he was pronounced dead after some 30 minutes later — but not before assembled media heard “moaning, crying out and guttural noises.”
  • On January 26, 2014, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire seemed to visibly suffer and struggle throughout his lethal injection, performed with midazolam and hydromorphone, an untested drug combination which McGuire's lawyers protested as inhumane. In a subsequent lawsuit, his family claimed that McGuire "repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and arching his back, appearing to writhe in pain ... It looked and sounded as though he was suffocating."