Oklahoma doesn’t make the news very often, and when it does the news is usually bad or odd.
The controversial April 29th execution of Clayton Lockett was last week’s entry into the Oklahoma Bad News Hall of Fame.
If you want a textbook example of a man who belonged on Death Row, you need look no further than Lockett. He had just been released from prison (where he served time for conspiracy to commit embezzlement, burglary and knowingly concealing stolen property) when he and two accomplices decided to raid a house where a man who owed Lockett money was living. The botched home invasion ended in assault, kidnapping, rape, and murder. The victim, Stephanie Nieman, had the misfortune of arriving at the home while Lockett and his accomplices were there. You can read the grisly details of her death here.
Lockett’s pending execution had already been the subject of controversy earlier this year. The combination of lethal drugs that Oklahoma had successfully used for years was no longer available, since the manufacturer of one of the drugs decided to halt production over concerns about its use as an ingredient in the lethal injection cocktail. After assessing the situation, the state of Oklahoma decided to proceed with the execution but to use a different combination of drugs, which resulted in a one month stay of execution for Lockett and for Charles Warner, who was scheduled to be executed on the same day as Lockett.
The new combination of drugs was not what led to problems with Lockett’s execution. It turns out that Lockett had to be tasered when he refused to cooperate with authorities prior to his execution. He had also been refusing to eat. When he was finally brought to the death chamber, medical personnel could not find a suitable vein anywhere on his arms or legs, so they opted to place the IV in his groin area.
Authorities figured out that something was wrong when Lockett began to writhe and clench his fists a few minutes after the lethal drugs were injected. He had first been given an anesthetic, which should have rendered him unconscious. They soon discovered that the vein in his groin had collapsed and that the IV solution had either leaked out onto the table or flooded the tissue adjacent to the injection point. There were not enough drugs remaining for the IV to be delivered again. Shortly after the IV was stopped, Lockett died from an apparent heart attack.
Charles Warner, who had once again been scheduled for execution directly after Lockett, was given another stay as authorities began a formal investigation into the circumstances of Lockett’s death.
So what do we make of Lockett’s execution? It did not go very smoothly, but ultimately it was successful. Critics have been very harsh on Oklahoma authorities, who (they claim) seemed to be rushing Lockett and Warner’s execution without proper verification that the drugs they planned to use, in the amounts prescribed, would have worked.
Should Oklahoma revamp its procedures for the preparation of inmates for execution by lethal injection? The only aspect of this case that really troubles me is the fact that prison authorities did not seem to have a plan for dealing with an inmate who had deep veins or some other medical condition that would make starting an IV difficult. The death chamber is not the place for authorities to discover an inmate’s medical problems.
Do we really have, as President Obama suggested, a problem with “uneven” application of the death penalty based on race? Do we also have a problem with the death penalty being overused in cases where the guilt of the accused is not certain? Since neither of scenarios applied to the Lockett case, was it appropriate for the President to bring them up?
Talk amongst yourselves …