When executions go wrong

There’s no nice way to describe what happened in Oklahoma last evening, where for weeks people have been trying to tell a state that attempting to execute two men using experimental drugs was a bad idea.

No doubt, some people will say, “good, let ’em suffer,” but public policy shouldn’t be dictated by people without a functioning soul.

Here, let the Daily Oklahoman tell the story:

The execution, which was supposed to start at 6, began at 6:23 p.m. The three-drug cocktail was then administered to Lockett, who had no last words. Lockett was declared unconscious 10 minutes into the process but he mumbled at three separate moments. The first two were inaudible, however the third time he said the word “man.”

Sixteen minutes into the procedure, Lockett grimaced and tensed his body several times over a three-minute period, his head rising from the gurney and his feet kicking several times. A medical professional lifted the sheet covering Lockett’s body to check the vein in his right arm just before officials closed the curtains in the execution chamber and shielded witnesses from what was happening.

He was declared dead at 7:06 p.m. His death was not witnessed by the media.

Patton later announced Lockett had suffered a “blown vein” and had died of a heart attack. He said all three execution drugs had been administered, but “the drugs were not having the effect.”

It’s even worse when you watch a Tulsa World reporter describe what happened.

“In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world,” Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said.

While there remains an active debate over the death penalty, the Washington Post notes, fewer medical people and pharmaceutical companies want to be involved in the killing:

Licensed physicians are now unwilling to have anything to do with them on ethical grounds. Pharmaceutical companies that market the most tested drugs have cut off supplies, forcing states to obtain compounds they refuse to describe from suppliers they refuse to identify.

These controversies have begun a whole new phase in the decades-long struggle over capital punishment. For years, opponents of the death penalty fought about its fundamental fairness under the Constitution. When they lost that fight, they attacked the capacity of the criminal justice system to actually mete out the death penalty reliably and without racial bias. They lost that fight, too, in the 1980s.

But Oklahoma went ahead anyway even though a state Supreme Court had called for a stay of execution over concerns about the untested drugs and their origin. People called for impeachment of the justices, who then rescinded their order.

It’s unlikely there’ll be political fallout for Oklahoma officials who charged ahead with the execution. Two-thirds of Americans still support the death penalty.

Presumably, none of them ever had to watch one.

  1. Listen MPR’s Tom Weber interviews Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty, at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College

  • jon

    How hard can it be to kill some one?

    Apparently very when you don’t get to be cruel or unusual…

  • “People called for impeachment of the justices, who then rescinded their order.”

    That’s quite an appeals process.

  • MikeB

    Maybe we haven’t made much progress in the last 600 years

  • John Peschken

    Maybe the trouble comes when we try to use technology to make it “clean”. A return to “Off with his head” would at least be reliable, shock people, and remind them that the government is killing someone in our name. No more silent drugging while hidden under sheets. Maybe that would shock us into putting an end to this medieval practice.

    • Tyler

      If we’re going to keep capital punishment around, there’s no reason not to use a firing squad.

  • Gary F

    Not a huge fan of the death penalty. I think it costs too much by plugging out our legal system with lengthy trials and appeals.

    But, it’s hard to feel any sorrow for this guy. Look up what he was convicted of.