by Christopher Zoukis

The family of Oklahoma prisoner Clayton Lockett, whose botched execution caused international outrage, filed a federal lawsuit that accused the doctor who oversaw the April 29, 2014 execution of “human medical experimentation in torturing [him] to death.” The district court dismissed the case and the family has filed an appeal.

David Lane, a civil rights attorney, said he obtained information that Dr. Johnny Zellmer, an emergency room physician at McAlester Regional Medical Center, was filling in for another doctor on the execution team on two days’ notice and was poorly trained in execution protocols. Lane stated, “I called [Zellmer] and said, ‘Dr. Johnny, I’m a civil rights lawyer in Denver and I have inside information that you participated in the execution of Clayton Lockett. If you tell me you had nothing to do with that execution, I will not sue you,’” Zellmer reportedly replied, “Y’all have to talk to the prison about that.”

Lockett’s execution attracted widespread condemnation after witnesses reported seeing him writhing and groaning on the death gurney during the lethal injection process. The drug used to kill Lockett, Midazolam, had been used in other executions that did not proceed smoothly, including one in Arizona where it took the prisoner nearly two hours to die. Lockett’s execution lasted almost 45 minutes and involved failed IV lines and, according to the lawsuit, “a lack of training” on the part of Zellmer and other participants. Although Lockett’s execution was eventually called off, he died shortly afterwards due to a heart attack.

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About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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