Oklahoma’s Execution Fuels Death Penalty Debate


In a recent study, the number of innocent people on death row was revealed sending shock waves across the country.  Now, after another uneven execution in Oklahoma, the death penalty debate will only get more intense.   In  addition to a number of innocent people on death row, the application of lethal drugs has become a serious issue in states that carry out executions.   While some believe that the death penalty borders on cruel and unusual punishment, which would violate the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution, they accept it as a form of punishment.  However, if the application   of the lethal drugs is botched causing undue suffering for the prisoner, and those watching said execution, there may be a question of continuing the practice.

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Clayton Lockett was convicted in 2000 of first degree murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery. He was sentenced to death, and after the usual appeals and stays, was scheduled to be executed on Tuesday. In Oklahoma, three drugs are used during the execution.  The first drug is meant to kill the prisoner.  In Mr. Lockett’s case, he lived for 43 minutes after the first drug was administered.  Before the blinds were closed blocking the witnesses to the execution, a CNN reporter observed Mr. Lockett convulsing and writhing on the gurney.  In addition, the reporter heard Mr. Locket state “Man”, “I’m not”, and “something’s wrong.”   Other reporters who witnessed the execution stated that Mr. Lockett lifted his head and was still alive in obvious pain and discomfort before their view was blocked.

Mr. Lockett’s attorney, Dean Sanderford said his client’s body “started to twitch” and “the convulsing got worse. It looked like his whole upper body was trying to lift off the gurney.  For a minute, there was chaos.”   Mr. Sanderford was ordered out of the witness area and never informed as to what happened after the first injection.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton, after the first drug was injected, “We began pushing the second and third drugs in the protocol.  There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having the effect. So the doctor observed the line and determined that the line had blown.”  He added that Mr. Lockett’s vein had “exploded.”  After regaining control of the situation, Mr. Lockett was given the drugs again and died of a heart attack.    According to state officials, Mr. Lockett remained unconscious after the lethal drugs were administered.   Another execution which was scheduled later on Tuesday was halted by the state and stayed for 14 days.

Many states that carry out executions have been looking for a new combination of lethal drugs, since they were banned from using European based manufacturers of drugs in United States prison, such as pentobarbital.  Oklahoma planned to use midazolam to sedate the prisoner, vecuronium bromide to stop respiration, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.   The drugs are administered in the above order into all prisoners.  This was the first time the state had used midazolam as the first drug in its administration of the death penalty.

Prisoners on death row now have another avenue of appeal, the questioning of the legality of administering these drugs.  Oklahoma will investigate he circumstances around the execution.  But, with Mr. Lockett being added to a number of recent botched executions, the question will soon end up in court, and a decision will be made as to whether these lethal drugs violate the cruel and unusual provision of the US Constitution.  In the meantime, those on both sides of the argument surrounding the death penalty will have to deal with the troubling question raised by the botched execution of Charles Lockett.


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