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Oklahoma halts death row executions after investigation into botched lethal injection

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Governor says the state "can look forward to returning to executions" once new protocols are in place

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The governor of Oklahoma this week announced that executions of inmates on death row have been put on hold, pending new guidelines to improve the state's controversial lethal injection process. As the Associated Press reports, Governor Mary Fallin's announcement comes following the release of a state investigation into the April execution of Clayton Lockett, who convulsed violently for 43 minutes before succumbing to a drug cocktail administered by injection. Prison officials at first claimed that Lockett died of a heart attack, but autopsy results released last week show that he was killed by the injected drugs.

In its report, the Department of Public Safety said that Lockett's unusually long execution was caused by a misplaced intravenous line that was inserted into his groin. Prison officials placed it there because they couldn't find appropriate injection points on his legs and torso, but covered Lockett and the IV with a sheet. As a result, they weren't able to monitor the IV, and only realized that the injection area had swollen after it became clear that was something was awry.

"If I am assured as governor that those protocols are in place... then we can look forward to returning to executions."

The report includes 11 recommendations to avoid similar cases, including more training for medical staff and greater supplies of lethal drugs and equipment. It also calls for injection areas to be visible at all times, and for state prisons to develop clear emergency response procedures. The state corrections department is reviewing the recommendations, which Governor Fallin expects to be implemented before executions resume. In May, the state delayed the execution of a convicted murder and rapist by six months amid controversy over Lockett's death.

"If I am assured as governor that those protocols are in place... then we can look forward to returning to executions," Fallin said. "But until all of those protocols have been put in place, we won't be having executions."

"it should have been stopped, but it wasn't."

Lockett's execution marked the first time that Oklahoma administered midazolam — a sedative that was used in combination with two other drugs. Midazolam was used in two other gruesome executions this year, in Ohio and Arizona, but Oklahoma's public safety commissioner stressed that in Lockett's case, the drugs worked as expected. Several US states have begun administering experimental drugs in recent years, as wary companies and governments have restricted supplies of traditional drugs.

Oklahoma's response to Lockett's death has drawn criticism from defense attorneys, who describe the report as tepid. Fallin chose public safety commissioner Michael Thompson to oversee the review (Thompson is also charged with overseeing prisons), ignoring calls for an independent investigator. The report also refrains from blaming any individuals for the botched execution, and officials are not considering charges.

"Once the execution was clearly going wrong, it should have been stopped, but it wasn't," Dale Baich, a Phoenix public defender representing other death row inmates, said in a statement. "Whoever allowed the execution to continue needs to be held accountable."