Did Clayton Lockett suffer severe pain before he died? Nobody knows for sure. That’s what official records say. But his execution did not go according to plan.
The state of Oklahoma uses a three-drug “protocol” for lethal injections. Midazolam is supposed to render the condemned unconscious; vecuronium bromide paralyzes the body; and potassium chloride stops the heart. An execution by lethal injection is supposed to take about 10 minutes.
Lockett’s execution took 43 minutes. After the drugs were administered, witnesses reported that the confessed murderer jerked against the gurney restraints and made noises. Many death penalty abolitionists believe midazolam was the culprit.
Oklahoma and other states turned to the sedative agent, which is used in some surgeries and for other medicinal purposes, after American and European pharmaceutical companies refused to sell them sodium thiopental, the drug traditionally used for executions.
In the aftermath of Lockett’s execution, attorneys representing four death row inmates tried to convince the courts to stop any further executions, arguing that the midazolam drug cocktail may cause “severe pain, needless suffering, and a lingering death.”
While the Supreme Court deliberated over whether or not to consider the case, one of the defendants was executed with the midazolam protocol. Charles Warner, a convicted child rapist and murderer, said “my body is on fire” after the lethal injection was administered. He died 18 minutes later.
On Monday, the nation’s highest court ruled that states can continue using midazolam in executions.
‘I murdered a human being’
The executioners are not sadists or psychopaths. According to Allen Ault, they’re conscientious human beings. And they too suffer severe pain from the death penalty, though they don’t often speak publicly about it.
Ault never used lethal injection. Georgia’s method of execution was the electric chair. The trained psychologist served as the commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Corrections from 1992-1995. He oversaw five executions.
Unable to cope with the psychological trauma, Ault left his job. He told Deutsche Welle how he came to oppose the death penalty: