Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Botched Oklahoma Execution Shakes Even Death Penalty Supporters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Botched Oklahoma Execution Shakes Even Death Penalty Supporters

Article excerpt

Before panicked medical personnel in Oklahoma's death chamber flipped down the blinds, witnesses saw a scene that one described as "incredibly difficult to watch": the condemned man groaned, struggled, lifted his head, and said, "man" and "something's wrong."

Oklahoma's first test of a new lethal drug combination failed disastrously Tuesday evening. Instead of a painless death, as intended, Clayton Lockett appeared to suffer. Gov. Mary Fallin said prison officials deny that Mr. Lockett ever regained consciousness before they administered a second dose of drugs intended to painlessly stop his breathing and his heart.

But on Wednesday she ordered an investigation into what happened. Preliminary testimony suggests there was a problem with the injection, not the drugs, state officials say.

The incident, which ended when Mr. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the "cocktail" of three drugs was first injected, immediately raised legal challenges on Eighth Amendment grounds - that Oklahoma failed to protect Lockett from "cruel and unusual" punishment.

"I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of [a humane] standard," White House press secretary Jay Carney said during a regular briefing Wednesday.

But more broadly, the botched execution is raising questions about what society will accept in the course of states carrying out the death penalty, a punishment that a majority of Americans still support. One central question, legal experts say, is whether the current problems with lethal injections will pass or whether they might lead to deeper reviews of the death penalty.

"I don't expect that this one incident will be in itself the straw that breaks the camel's back and leads to the abolition of the death penalty, but clearly it was deeply troubling, and clearly a lot of people are going to be troubled by it," says Rick Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.

"Most Americans who support the death penalty still believe that it needs to be administered in a way that's humane, and that's possible, but difficult, to do," he adds. "The conversation about what we the people are going to do will be affected by" botched executions like the one Tuesday in Oklahoma.

Lockett's apparently painful death came only a few months after a convicted murderer and rapist in Ohio, Dennis McGuire, gasped and convulsed for 10 minutes after a lethal injection. Lethal injections should just take a few minutes to take effect and cause death.

Lockett, a convicted rapist, was on death row for shooting a woman, Stephanie Nieman, and then watching two confederates bury her alive.

The problems have arisen after the European Union in 2011 banned companies from selling drugs used in executions to American states. That has forced states to try new drugs and new suppliers. …

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