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Botched Okla. execution prompts review of protocols

McALESTER, Okla. - Following the failed execution of an Oklahoma inmate Tuesday night, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said Wednesday that she has commissioned an independent review of the Department of Corrections execution protocols and halted all other scheduled executions in the state until that review is complete.

Clayton Lockett writhed, clenched his teeth and appeared to struggle before prison officials halted the execution Tuesday night. The execution was the first in which the state was using a new drug combination. Lockett, 38, died of a heart attack approximately 40 minutes after the execution began.

The White House said Wednesday the failed execution fell short of the humane standards required when the death penalty is carried out.

Gov. Fallin said that following Lockett's attempted execution, an independent review of the state's execution protocols would be "effective and also appropriate."

The review will be lead by the Department of Public Safety and will focus on determining Lockett's cause of death, looking to see whether the Department of Corrections followed proper protocol for the execution, and whether any improvements can be made, Fallin said.

The autopsy on Lockett will include an examination of the injection sites on his arms and a toxicology report to determine what drugs were in his system, according to the state medical examiner's spokeswoman Amy Elliott. The autopsy will be performed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is expected to last for several hours, Elliott said. She added that it could take two to four months to complete the toxicology report.

It is routine for the medical examiner's office to conduct an autopsy on inmates after an execution, but Lockett's death is unusual because his execution was halted before he was declared dead.

Lockett, 38, was declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of three drugs in Oklahoma's new lethal injection combination was administered Tuesday evening. Three minutes later, he began breathing heavily, writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.

Blinds in the window of the death chamber were eventually lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening, and the state's top prison official later called a halt to the proceedings. Lockett died of a heart attack shortly thereafter, the Department of Corrections said.

Officials blamed a ruptured vein for the problems with the execution, which are likely to fuel more debate about the ability of states to administer lethal injections that meet the U.S. Constitution's requirement they be neither cruel nor unusual punishment.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama believes evidence shows the death penalty doesn't effectively deter crime. But he said Obama believes some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty is merited and that the crimes in Lockett's case are indisputably heinous. A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in 1999. Neiman and a friend had interrupted the men as they robbed a home.

But Carney said the U.S. has a fundamental standard that the death penalty must be carried out humanely, and that everyone would recognize that this case fell short.

Tuesday was the first time Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam as the first element in its execution drug combination. Other states have used it before; Florida administers 500 milligrams of midazolam as part of its three-drug combination. Oklahoma used 100 milligrams of that drug.

Gov. Fallin ordered a 14-day stay of execution for Charles Warner, an inmate who was scheduled to die two hours after Lockett. Fallin said that if the independent review is not complete by May 13 when Warner is scheduled to die, an additional stay will be issued.

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