OKLAHOMA CITY — Prison guards had been warned to watch for antics from Clayton Lockett when, on the morning of his execution, an officer's flashlight beam caught a bloodstain on the inmate’s shirt and bunk.
Officers who tried to burst into the cell to save the condemned 38-year-old discovered that he'd used something to jam the motor that opened and closed the door. They also found that he had jammed the door, itself, so that they couldn’t open it more than partway.
That, likely coupled with a dire warning circulating among prison staff that Lockett had threatened to kill at least one of them, led an extraction team to shoot him with a Taser to ensure he was subdued before taking him to the prison infirmary.
The incident was recounted to investigators during a prison guard's interview. A transcript of that interview is included in a more than 5,200-page file detailing the Department of Public Safety’s investigation into the clumsy, 43-minute execution of Lockett last April 29.
The department released a heavily redacted version of the file last week, prompted by an open records lawsuit filed by the Tulsa World and Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press. It made a copy of file available Tuesday in response to a public records request.
Interviews with witnesses and prison staff show that some of the chaos of that night was clearly due to the fact that state leaders had ordered a rare double-execution with just over 30 days notice, and many in the prison were figuring out procedure as they went along.
With two inmates scheduled to die by lethal injection, prison leaders had changed their procedure when it came to placing the condemned in a super-max cell seven days prior to the execution, according to an interview with an employee whose identity was withheld.
“They only had like one cell …," said the employee who was involved in meetings with Anita Trammell, warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, the morning of the execution.
It took Lockett 43 minutes to die from the state’s three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The Department of Public Safety’s probe ultimately found that the IV administering the drug through Lockett’s groin came loose, prolonging the death.
The lethal injection of the other prisoner, Charles Warner, was postponed following problems with the procedure for Lockett.
Interviews with prison staff indicate intense outside pressure to make the double-execution happen after repeated stays. A prison employee, whose name was redacted, told investigators, “it was mandated that we do this double-execution thing.”
Interviews revealed that Lockett, himself, suggested putting the IV in his leg after efforts to insert lines into his hands, feet and neck failed. When an EMT hesitated because IVs in those locations are known to cause clots, Lockett reportedly said, “Does it really matter?”
Prison employees said they knew the executions had to go forward. So many dignitaries were in the witness room — to see a double-execution and the state’s first attempt in trying the new, three-drug cocktail — that two advocates assigned to work with the family of Lockett’s victim were booted from the witness area.
They watched the execution on a color television screen set up elsewhere at the prison, according to statements.
One victim's services employee, who has witnessed more than a dozen executions but was kicked out, said she reassured the family that there was nothing to worry about and that she expected the execution to proceed without a hitch.
In reality, though, prison employees had been warned that the execution would take longer than in the past, according to interviews with those involved. Watching and recording the time was vitally important, they were told, as some drugs were expected to work faster than others.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced earlier this year its plan to examine the constitutionality of Oklahoma's lethal injection method, which critics say causes the condemned inmate to suffer. Oklahoma asked the court to halt all executions pending the outcome of that case.
A prison employee said he was assigned to the room where the executioners were located, awaiting orders to administer the deadly drugs. He said his role was to watch for colored pencils, used at the time to signal how things were proceeding on the other side of the wall.
Phones and radios, he noted, were a “luxury” for modern penal institutions. The Oklahoma State Penitentiary relied on colored pencils to communicate with the executioners: Green meant proceed. Yellow meant there’s trouble but keep going. Red meant to stop.
The state has since modernized the execution chamber, replacing the colored pencil system with a new audio and video system.
“I’m leaning forward every once in a while to look at this hole to make sure we’re still green and go, and there was never any yellow or red on there, never any indication that there was anything wrong back here," he said.