April 30, 2014 8:52 am

Should we worry about ‘botched’ executions?

ABOVE: Authorities say a new cocktail of drugs – used for the first time – on inmate Clayton Lockett may not have worked. Marlie Hall has the details. 

TORONTO - The fallout from a botched execution in Oklahoma is expected to build in coming days, fuelling more debate about lethal injections in the U.S.

Story continues below

A three-drug combination left inmate Clayton Lockett writhing in pain before officials noticed a vein had ruptured in his arm and halted his execution.

He died a short time later of a heart attack.

READ MORE: U.S. inmate dies of heart attack after botched execution

The state’s Republican governor ordered a 14-day stay of execution for Charles Warner, an inmate who was scheduled to die two hours after Lockett, and demanded that the Department of Corrections conduct a full review “to determine what happened and why during this evening’s execution.”

The issues with Lockett’s execution have fuelled 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.

A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in 1999 after she and a friend arrived at a home the men were robbing.

Warner had been scheduled to be put to death 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.

‘Cruel and unusual punishment’

Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty co-chair Adam Leathers said years from now, Oklahomans will look back at this moment of Lockett’s death “in shame and embarrassment of our leadership.”

READ MORE: Should death row inmate Ronald Phillips be allowed to donate organs?

“This night will be a catalyst for those aggrieved and outraged to continue to fight to abolish the death penalty in Oklahoma and every other state in America,” he wrote in a statement. “While we are deeply saddened by last night’s outcome, we are not intimidated or defeated. Our fight continues for justice.”

On social media, many voiced their own opinions regarding ‘botched’ executions.

Boston Globe‘s global correspondent Austin Sarat says that to some supporters of the death penalty, the search for a painless way of killing those who kill may even seem paradoxical and says that advocates might see a painful death as “fair punishment.” 

In his piece What botched executions tell us about the death penalty,‘  he refers to Arlene Blanchard, a survivor of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, who at the time of McVeigh’s execution said, “Death by injection is ‘too good’ for McVeigh….I know it sounds uncivilized, but I want him to experience just a little of the pain and torture that he has put us through.’ “

Sarat, however, argues that the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” applies to the death penalty as well, and that “no matter how vile their crime, no one has been formally sentenced to die by slow strangulation, or by decapitation, or by burning to death. And at no point in recent history has an American legislature, judge, or jury acted on the view that it’s acceptable to put criminals to death in an overtly uncivilized way.”

“However it is interpreted, our Constitution commits us to exercise restraint in dealing with even the most heinous criminals and to insure that the ultimate punishment does not devolve into torture,” he wrote.

In an interview with The Associated Press, death penalty opponent Bryan Brooks said Lockett’s execution was “rather ironic.”

It’s rather ironic because the whole issue about the legal battle over the drugs themselves and whether or not they could be used in such an execution, that it would cause a quick death, that would be compatible with, that it would not be a form of cruel and unusual punishment, so then for his death to occur under these circumstances is certainly interesting to say the least,” he said.

Are death row inmates entitled to know source of execution drugs?

Both Lockett and Warner had sued the state for refusing to disclose details about the execution drugs, including where Oklahoma obtained them. The case prompted calls for the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices after the court last week issued a rare stay of execution.

The high court later dissolved its stay and dismissed the inmates’ claim that they were entitled to know the source of the drugs.

Days before Lockett’s execution, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said there is a longstanding precedent that the source of the execution drugs should remain confidential to avoid “intimidation used by defense counsel and other anti-death penalty groups.”

“These death row inmates have not contested their guilt for murdering two innocent victims nor have they contested their sentences of death,” Pruitt said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The legal wrangling of the attorneys for Lockett and Warner has served only to delay their punishment for the heinous crimes they committed.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

Report an error