In the death chamber

Scott Crow, administrator of field operations for the Department of Corrections, stands inside Oklahoma’s death chamber Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Crow detailed renovations to the death chamber, operations room, and viewing areas.

McALESTER — Oklahoma corrections officials displayed new high-tech cameras, audio and medical equipment installed in the state’s death chamber following a troubled execution in April that made international headlines.

The new equipment at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester includes cameras, television and microphone equipment, allowing for direct communication between the execution room and an adjacent operations room where Director of Corrections Robert Patton will observe all executions. New phone lines on a single phone bank also will allow Patton to reach the governor and also the state attorney general immediately if necessary.

“One of the things that was required...was that we improve or enhance our communications within this area,” said Scott Crow, administrator for field operations for the DOC.

Some of the new technology replaces a system in which corrections employees held up colored pencils to communicate between the execution and operations rooms during executions.

The renovations cost $106,042 and follow the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29. It took some 40 minutes for Lockett to die from the state’s three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, an autopsy found. An Oklahoma Department of Public Safety investigation determined problems with the insertion of an intravenous line into a vein in Lockett’s groin area was responsible for the delayed death. A newly installed ultrasound machine in the operations room will help identify veins suitable for injection of drugs, Crow said.

During Lockett’s execution, a decision by OSP Warden Anita Trammell to place a sheet over Lockett’s groin area to cover the IV line to protect the inmate’s dignity prevented officials from realizing the line had shifted and delayed delivery of the drugs. The new cameras and televisions will assist in monitoring the drug injection site from the operations room.

New medical equipment will help monitor the heart rate and other vital signs of the condemned, and the Department of Corrections has since ordered more training for corrections officers participating in the execution. They have also ensured a physician and paramedic will be present at the advanced training. The additional training will include at least “10 training scenarios within the 12 months preceding the scheduled execution.”

The renovations to the H-Unit of the prison expanded the operations room. Crow said there were 25 seats in the witness area prior to the renovations, but now there are only 19 seats which are bolted to the floor. There will now be five media witnesses instead of 12.

New execution protocols announced in late September also include upping the dosage of midazolam five-fold during executions. The use of the drug is controversial — death penalty opponents contend the drug is responsible for other botched executions across the nation.

The state’s next execution is scheduled for Nov. 13. Charles Warner is scheduled to die for the 1997 rape and murder of 11-month-old Adrianna Walker, the daughter of his roommate.

Glenn Puit and Parker Perry write for the McAlester News-Capital.

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