Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison. (Photo: CA Dept of Corrections/Public Domain)

The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison. (Photo: CA Dept of Corrections/Public Domain)

Doctor Accused of Torture, 'Medical Experimentation' over Botched Execution

Family of Clayton Lockett files suit naming attending physician, who they say violated Hippocratic Oath and protocols established at the Nuremberg Doctor Trials

The family of Clayton Lockett, an Oklahoma death row inmate who in April was killed in a botched execution, is suing those who participated in his death, including a board-certified physician, saying they violated numerous treaties including those established at the post-World War II Nuremberg trials.

In his lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, Gary Lockett, charged that the "brutal" execution of his brother, which took nearly an hour, "was a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a violation of innumerable standards of international law, and a violation of elementary concepts of human decency."

After the administration of the controversial and untested drug midazolam, Lockett—as described in the court documents—"writhed in agony, convulsed, gasped for breath, moaned repeatedly and took approximately 43 minutes to die at the hands of the Defendants."

Among those defendants identified in the suit is Dr. Johnny Zellmer, who the suit charges "engaged in human medical experimentation in torturing Clayton Lockett to death, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, the Hippocratic Oath, and numerous international treaties and protocols including those established at the Nuremberg Doctor Trials dealing with human experimentation on unwilling prisoners."

As the Guardian's Ed Pilkington reports, "The naming of Dr. Zellmer under court privilege is a rare instance of the identity of a physician who allegedly participated in an execution coming to light. Death penalty states, including Oklahoma, go to great lengths to guard the secrecy of their execution teams."

Typically, doctors are only present in the execution chamber in order to pronounce an individual dead. However, in the case of Lockett, an internal investigation revealed that a physician had to step in to ultimately administer the execution drugs via IV when a paramedic was unable to place the IV.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

'Sorely Disappointed' by Court Ruling, Pipeline Foes Demand Biden 'Act Immediately to Stop Line 3'

"Every day President Biden refuses to stop the Line 3 pipeline is a slap in the face to environmental justice communities and a renewed breaking of his promises on climate and Indigenous rights."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


300+ Progressive Groups Urge Corporations to Ditch ALEC for Pushing Voter Suppression Bills

"If corporations really believe in protecting our democracy and the right to vote, they must end their affiliation with ALEC," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·


Reality Winner's Release From Federal Prison Met With Calls for Full Pardon for the NSA Whistleblower

Winner will serve the rest of her five-year sentence under the supervision of a halfway house.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·


Analysis Highlights Biden Proposal to End $84 Billion Gift to Big Oil Buried in Trump Tax Scam

"We can stop this insane corporate welfare and use it to pay for a renewable energy future."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·


Intent on Appeasing Manchin, US Blocks G7 Progress on Phasing Out Coal

"Once again Joe Manchin is casting a heavy shadow."

Julia Conley, staff writer ·