The suffering experienced by an Oklahoma inmate during his botched execution this week "may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment according to international human rights law," a United Nations human rights official said Friday.
Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, made the comments while speaking to media in Geneva.
The state used untested drugs to execute Clayton Lockett by lethal injection on Tuesday. Witnesses describe seeing Lockett "writhe in pain," clench his teeth and struggle. He died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the first injection started.
According to details released by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, in the morning Lockett had cut himself and prison officials tased him.
According to the documents, an IV was inserted into Lockett's groin, where he received a trio of drugs, but 11 minutes after the second two drugs were injected, officials saw that something had gone wrong and closed the blinds so witnesses couldn't see. The doctor said Lockett's vein had collapsed, and that the drugs had been absorbed by tissue or leaked out. The execution was called off, and Lockett was pronounced dead of a heart attack minutes later.
While the Department of Corrections documents say that Lockett was unconscious before they closed the blinds and do not describe any reaction from the inmate after that point, journalist Ziva Branstetter of Tulsa World, one of 12 media witnesses to the execution, described a different scene to Democracy Now!:
So what happened is, at 6:23, the execution began. The inmate had no last words. About 10 minutes later, they pronounced him unconscious. There was no reaction for about three minutes. And then, at about—about, you know, I would say three minutes after that, he began a very violent reaction. He began writhing, lifting his shoulders up off the gurney and his head up off the gurney. He was clenching his jaw, exhaling. He was mumbling phrases that none of us could really hear. The only audible word we could hear was him saying "man." And he appeared to be in pain, but we couldn’t understand what he was saying. This lasted for about three minutes. The physician in the execution chamber went over, lifted up the sheet, looked at his right arm. The warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, who was also in the execution chamber, said that they were going to have to temporarily close the blinds. And after that, they never reopened them.
Colville noted that Lockett's apparent suffering would also violate the United States' own 8th Amendment.
"The prolonged death of Clayton Lockett is the second case of apparent extreme suffering caused by malfunctioning lethal injections reported in 2014 in the United States," Colville said, referring to the execution of Dennis McGuire, who was executed by the state of Ohio using a controversial untested mixture of drugs.
"The apparent cruelty involved in these recent executions simply reinforces the argument that authorities across the United States should impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and work for abolition of this cruel and inhuman practice," Colville said.