May 01, 2014
Oklahoma officials were conducting an autopsy Wednesday on an inmate who writhed, clenched his teeth and appeared to struggle before prison officials halted an execution in which the state was using a new drug combination for the first time. The man later died of an apparent heart attack.
The autopsy on 38-year-old Clayton Lockett will include an examination of the injection sites on his arms and a toxicology report to determine what drugs were in his system, medical examiner's spokeswoman Amy Elliott said. The autopsy in Tulsa was expected to last for several hours, Elliott said, and 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 had been declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of three drugs in the state'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. Officials later 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.
The blinds eventually were lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening in the death chamber, 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.
"It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched," said Lockett's attorney, David Autry.
Questions about execution procedures have drawn renewed attention from defense attorneys and death penalty opponents in recent months, as several states scrambled to find new sources of execution drugs because drugmakers that oppose capital punishment — many based in Europe — have stopped selling to U.S. prisons and corrections departments.
Defense attorneys have unsuccessfully challenged several states' policies of shielding the identities of the source of their execution drugs. Missouri and Texas, like Oklahoma, have both refused to reveal their sources and both of those states have carried out executions with their new supplies.
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.
"They should have anticipated possible problems with an untried execution protocol," Autry said. "Obviously the whole thing was gummed up and botched from beginning to end. Halting the execution obviously did Lockett no good."
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin ordered a 14-day stay of execution for an inmate who was scheduled to die two hours after Lockett, Charles Warner. She also ordered the state's Department of Corrections to conduct a "full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening's execution."
Robert Patton, the department's director, halted Lockett's execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. He later said there had been vein failure.
The execution began at 6:23 p.m., when officials began administering the midazolam. A doctor declared Lockett to be unconscious at 6:33 p.m.
Once an inmate is declared unconscious, the state's execution protocol calls for the second drug, a paralytic, to be administered. The third drug in the protocol is potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Patton said the second and third drugs were being administered when a problem was noticed. He said it's unclear how much of the drugs made it into the inmate's system.
Lockett began writhing at 6:36. At 6:39, a doctor lifted the sheet that was covering the inmate to examine the injection site.
"There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having that (desired) effect, and the doctor observed the line at that time and determined the line had blown," Patton said at a news conference afterward, referring to Lockett's vein rupturing.
After an official lowered the blinds, Patton made a series of phone calls before calling a halt to the execution.
"After conferring with the warden, and unknown how much drugs went into him, it was my decision at that time to stop the execution," Patton told reporters.
Lockett was declared dead at 7:06 p.m.
Autry was skeptical of the department's determination that the issue was limited to a problem with Lockett's vein.
"I'm not a medical professional, but Mr. Lockett was not someone who had compromised veins," Autry said. "He was in very good shape. He had large arms and very prominent veins."
The cause of death for the last inmate to be executed in Oklahoma was determined to be acute mixed-drug toxicity, Elliott said. The manner is listed as homicide.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which was not a party in the legal challenge to the state's execution law, called for an immediate moratorium on state executions.
"This evening we saw what happens when we allow the government to act in secret at its most powerful moment and the consequences of trading due process for political posturing," said ACLU executive director Ryan Kiesel.
In Ohio, the January execution of an inmate who made snorting and gasping sounds led to a civil rights lawsuit by his family and calls for a moratorium. That execution also used the drug midazolam, but in a lower dosage than Oklahoma used and as part of a two-drug combination. The state has stood by the execution but said Monday that it's boosting the dosages of its lethal injection drugs.
A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999. Neiman and a friend had interrupted the men as they robbed a home.
Warner had been scheduled to be executed two hours later in the same room and on the same gurney. The 46-year-old was convicted of raping and killing his roommate's 11-month-old daughter in 1997. He has maintained his innocence.
Lockett and Warner had sued the state for refusing to disclose details about the execution drugs, including where Oklahoma obtained them. The case, filed as a civil matter, placed Oklahoma's two highest courts at odds. The state Supreme Court later dismissed the inmates' claim that they were entitled to know the source of the drugs.
April 24, 2014
LAWT Staff and Wire Report
“Earth Day is being celebrated everyday in your New Ninth District, as we work to clean up — and green up — our community,” Councilman Curren D. Price told his constituents recently.
“From our targeted community clean-up initiative to opening up new parks and community gardens, we are on a mission to transform our neighborhoods starting with improving our environment.
“This weekend we held four community clean-ups across the district to celebrate Earth Day, with dozens of community volunteers and collected tons of trash and bulky items. As we take a moment today to think about preserving our environment, visit sites like www.epa.gov/earthday/tips for tips on how to live ‘greener.’”
Price also invited the community to present their ideas for environmental changes, and on activities or policies they would like to see his office take on by visiting the ninth district website contact page, www.the-new-ninth.com. Visit the site also, for volunteer information for their next clean and green event.
April 24, 2014
By Jennifer Bihm
LAWT Contributing Writer
Jamaican born artist Michael Talbot was among the winners at the 30th annual Future Writers and Illustrator Awards on Sunday April 13 in Los Angeles. Associate Administrator for Education at NASA Headquarters Leland D. Melvin, keynoted the event, which featured thirteen science fiction short story and illustration entries, picked from thousands around the world. Talbot’s entry was for the story “Shifter,” written by Future Writer winner, Paul Eckheart.
“[The win] was very shocking,” recalled Talbot.
“I had entered and basically forgot about it until I got the call that I was finalist. I wasn’t expecting it.”
He’s been drawing, he said, for as long as he can remember, choosing to do so while other kids were playing outside. He was attempting to apply for a scholarship but ended up in the Future Illustrators program, created by author L. Ron Hubbard. The 20 year old is currently studying his craft at the Lesley University of Art and Design and says that he feels winning the prestigious award will take him to the next level.
“I’m going to finish college and after that I’m going straight for whatever I want to do [in graphic design and illustration].
Meanwhile, Melvin former NFL recruit and NASA astronaut said he chose to be a part of the event because writers of science fiction are significant in helping to spark ideas for real life advancements on earth and in space.
“Science fiction,” he said, “often becomes science fact.”
“What you do with your writing and illustrations,” he told the finalists during his keynote speech, “you impact not only our world, you impact our world.”
The Future Writers/ Illustrator awards are based solely on the creators’ work, there is no entry fee according to program officials. Winners are published in the latest volume of the Writers of the Future anthology. Prizes also include thousands in cash and royalties, mentorship from experts in their field and TV and radio interviews, helping them to advance their careers.
“To be honest, I don’t think I’m anything extraordinary or beyond the typical artist or lover,” said Talbot.
“But, I do believe I’m able to make an impact on people through my art and that’s precisely what I strive to do.”
April 24, 2014
By Jennifer Bihm
LAWT Contributing Writer
“When it came time for me to think about how I could give back to my community, it ended up coming through school,” said Deanna Jordan, a UCLA student who has teamed up with the university’s Community Programs department to launch her Compton Task Force Project.
The year-old project is aimed at helping kids in Compton schools build the skills and garner the tools they need to effectively navigate their way through the K-12 system and transition to college.
“I saw the difference in how my boys, I have three sons, were being taught in Westwood and Brentwood, which was still LAUSD. But, when you go to Compton or LAUSD schools in the inner city it’s a completely different end of the spectrum. I couldn’t understand that.”
For example, explained Jordan who is a Compton native, when she was in high schooled being bused to the valley, ninth graders were doing algebra and calculus. But at Fremont High in Los Angeles, “we were barely doing geometry,” she said.
The Task Force Project is connected with a variety of other non profits, churches and schools, enabling Jordan to secure resources for her students as needed, whether it be for education or transitional assistance. Under Jordan's leadership, UCLA student volunteers travel to the city of Compton six days a week to work on academics with students at Carver Elementary School, which she herself attended, Willowbrook Middle School and King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science. On Saturdays, the students go into the center about 10:00 am. They begin tutoring at 10:45.
“If the student is having difficulty reading (for example) we work them on that. If they have homework over the weekend, we help them with that,” Jordan explained.
“With our high school students, we help them the transition from high school to college. We work on the senior portfolio…”
After tutoring, is a breakout session where the younger students are separated from the older ones. The groups engage in open dialogs and free writing projects.
“Outside of the tutoring that’s the most fulfilling part,” said Jordan.
“Because you have these youth who are opening up and divulging a lot of the things they are going through,” she said.
Because, coming from where they come from, she had gone through a lot of the same things.
Higher education and civic engagement weren’t always priorities in Jordan’s life. Just a decade ago, she was focused on finishing high school, getting married and starting a family. By the age of 18, she had done all three.
But as her views and goals evolved, Jordan decided that if she was ever going to establish a greater degree of financial security for her young family, something had to change.
“At the end of the day, I had to say that it was important to me,” Jordan said of her decision to go to college. “I had to want it. Nobody could want it for me. Nobody.”
So just 12 days after her youngest son was born, she started sociology classes at West Los Angeles Community College.
“I returned to school on June 8, 2008, and I never stopped,” said Jordan, who earned an associate of arts degree from community college and transferred to UCLA in 2011. Jordan, a first-generation college student, has been honored as a departmental scholar at UCLA, allowing her to pursue her bachelor’s and master’s degrees concurrently. Ultimately, she plans to work in a field that will allow her to advocate for marginalized people and communities, she said.