Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

May 5, 2014

Botched execution another reason to distrust our officials

TAHLEQUAH — Oklahoma taxpayers may not receive thank-you cards from the family of Clayton D. Lockett, but we may be a small source of comfort in the midst of their grief. That’s because when Lockett’s family sues, a jury could award a hefty windfall, and the taxpayers will be picking up the tab – all because of a politically motivated, hastily performed execution that went horribly awry.

Clayton Lockett isn’t necessarily a poster boy for public pity. He was sentenced to death in 2000 for the murder of 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman. Lockett and two other miscreants grabbed Neiman during the robbery of a home, then shot her and buried her in a shallow grave.

According to Lockett’s relatives, the killer had “made peace” with his imminent execution. But he was worried the drugs might malfunction, and that he would suffer during the process. He was right: The lethal injection process was halted Tuesday after 20 minutes, and just after 7 p.m., Lockett died of a heart attack.

Even before the abortive execution attempt on Lockett, there was public concern that something like this would happen – and that doesn’t count long-standing and growing objections to the death penalty in principle. The three-drug cocktail used on Lockett had not been properly vetted, because it’s a relatively new combination. That’s because more and more companies that have traditionally manufactured lethal drug concoctions are halting that practice on moral and ethical grounds. So now, states are scrambling to find alternatives. Instead of taking time to determine whether such drugs constitute “cruel and unusual punishment,” officials – eager to prove their tough-on-crime stance and their dogged loyalty to the death penalty – forge ahead with their executions.

Ultimately, their actions will cost Oklahoma – not just in terms of reputation, but in terms of taxpayer dollars. Does anyone care?

Brady Henderson, legal director at ACLU of Oklahoma, said inmates are being used as “human guinea pigs” by state officials in their zeal to prove they have the intestinal fortitude to carry out sanctioned killings. Henderson also pointed out that “cruel and unusual punishment” is still illegal, and as the Lockett case unfolds, it could be determined that Oklahoma officials broke this law. When the botched procedure is coupled with the fact that officials refuse to disclose the source of the drugs used or the process by which they are administered, it seems clear government transparency is no longer valued by most Oklahoma politicians, and neither are the wishes of voters.

Many still favor the death penalty, but an increasing number are beginning to have doubts. They’re seeing capital punishment isn’t so much a deterrent to crime as it is a state-sponsored vengeance against criminals whose punishment might be more justly and economically meted out in prison terms. And people are taking note of the number of inmates being released as DNA testing becomes more routine. Killing an innocent person is murder, no matter who flips the switch.

There’s a good chance no one at the top level is listening. Though Gov. Mary Fallin did call a temporary halt to executions until a probe into the Lockett case can be completed, we’ve seen little reason to be confident in such investigations. Fallin also added that executions will continue here, just as she presumes the public wants them to.

Perhaps most people still do want that. But it’s doubtful they want tax dollars being used to settle lawsuits brought by families of “tortured” inmates. That’s not justice for the citizens of this state, and it may not even be justice for the dead criminal.

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