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Oklahoma prisons director: Agency to get new equipment for executions, tool to find vein

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma is renovating its death chamber and buying new equipment for executions, including a tool to allow staff to more easily find suitable veins for lethal injections after a troubled execution in April, the director of the state Department of Corrections said Monday.

Director Robert Patton said state prison officials began reviewing Oklahoma's execution guidelines immediately after the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and moaned before he was declared dead 43 minutes after his execution began. He said the agency intends to have new guidelines and equipment in place in time for the state's next scheduled execution on Nov. 13.

"We are working very hard to get the protocol done," Patton said.

A report released by the state Department of Public Safety last week blamed Lockett's flawed lethal injection on poor placement of intravenous lines and said the medical team could not find suitable veins in Lockett's arms, legs, neck and feet before the line was inserted into his groin. Patton said the Corrections Department will be getting a vein finder to help with that issue.

The report included 11 recommendations for improving the execution process, including more training for medical personnel, better communication between authorities who are part of the process and acquiring additional supplies of lethal drugs and equipment.

"It is our intention to adopt all of the recommendations from the report that are within our authority," Patton said. A recommendation that Oklahoma hold executions at least seven days apart cannot be adopted by the agency because it's up to the courts to set execution dates, he said.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has said she wants the new guidelines implemented before the state conducts another execution. Patton said he will inform Fallin if new procedures aren't in place or training isn't done before the next scheduled execution, on Nov. 13.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Tuesday, April 15, 2008 file photo, Terry Crenshaw, wardens assistant at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, walks past the gurney in the execution chamber at left, in McAlester, Okla. At right are the rows of chairs in which witnesses to executions are seated. The director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said Monday, Sept. 8, 2014,  the agency is renovating the state’s death chamber and purchasing new equipment for executions. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, April 15, 2008 file photo, Terry Crenshaw, wardens assistant at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, walks past the gurney in the execution chamber at left, in McAlester, Okla. At right are the rows of chairs in which witnesses to executions are seated. The director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, the agency is renovating the state’s death chamber and purchasing new equipment for executions. (AP Photo, File)

That's when Charles Frederick Warner is scheduled to die for the 1997 rape and murder of 11-month-old Adrianna Walker, the daughter of his roommate. Warner was set to die on the same day as Lockett, but his execution was postponed after problems developed during Lockett's lethal injection.

Lockett was convicted of shooting Stephanie Nieman, 19, with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in 1999.

Patton said upgrades to the death chamber will include new communication devices so government officials can know what's going on. He said the improvements will create more room inside the death chamber and allow the prison director and other staff members to be inside during the execution. Previously, the prison director was in a witness viewing area.

"I was standing outside talking to the governor's legal staff," Patton said. "Moving forward I will be inside and in direct communication, eyes on what's going on."

Patton said he does not yet know the cost of the renovations.

Patton declined comment on whether the sedative midazolam, which was used for the first time in the state with Lockett, will continue to be part of Oklahoma's lethal injection method, which is being challenged in a federal lawsuit filed by Warner and other death row inmates.

Patton said he hopes to get the new guidelines to the state attorney general's office for approval in the next couple of weeks. They will then be posted on the prison system's website, Patton said.

"At that time we will begin training staff on the new policy and new protocol," he said.

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