As Oklahoma Botches an Execution, it’s Time to Talk About Ending the Death Penalty

A double execution in Oklahoma turned into a single, ghastly one, after a failed attempt at lethal injection instead appears to have caused a prisoner’s heart attack and subsequent death. The second scheduled execution for the evening was postponed as a result, and reset for two weeks later. Yet 14 days is unlikely to change the basic issues involved with using undetermined, unclassified drugs in order to end the life of a person who has committed a crime, nor address the underlying problems with the death penalty itself.

Clayton Lockett was in prison for shooting a 19-year-old woman and allowing her to be buried alive, according to news reports, but his execution for the crime had been briefly in doubt as he and a fellow inmate also scheduled for lethal injection demanded to be informed about the drug that would be used in their deaths. The inmates had a justifiable reason to be concerned. Recent lethal injection executions had been conducted using untested, unnamed drugs, leaving those who underwent them taking extended periods to die in what onlookers described as obvious suffering.

Oklahoma, too, was trying an untested combination of new drugs, and was unwilling to state what was in the “cocktail.” According to the Associated Press, Lockett was given the first drug and declared unconscious 10 minutes later, but “[a]bout three minutes later, though, Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.” The blinds were closed to witnesses, and the execution allegedly halted, but Lockett was pronounced dead of a heart attack soon after.

“It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched,” Lockett’s attorney, David Autry, told the Associated Press.

Prison administrators blamed the failure on a bad vein, not the drugs themselves. But recent lethal injection attempts have been just as poorly done, and those who have undergone them have obviously suffered as well. An Ohio execution resulted in the inmate “snorting and snoring” through a 25 minute long execution, and caused the state to reexamine the level of drugs it administers during an execution.

What states should really be reexamining, however, is the use of the death penalty at all. A new study estimates that at least 4 percent of all executions are conducted on prisoners who are in fact innocent, resulting in about 200 wrongful state-sanctioned murders over the period of the last four decades. “This is a disturbing finding,” Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan law school who is the lead author of the research, told The Guardian. “There are a large number of people who are sentenced to death, and despite our best efforts some of them have undoubtedly been executed.”

Charles Warner, the other inmate scheduled to be executed that night, may have a literal stay of execution for now, but that still doesn’t address one major underlying concern in his case — the fact that years later he still maintains he is completely innocent of the crime he was charged with, raping and murdering an 11 month old infant. Warner went through three trials, and there were accusations of manipulated testimony and evidence.

Even if he had committed the crimes he was jailed for, the infant’s own mother opposes him being put to death for it. “God always has the final say so on life and death and after everything that I’ve been through, I wouldn’t want his family to suffer the way I’ve suffered or his child to have to endure losing her father. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” she told the Tulsa World, stating that she felt life in prison with no chance of parole was a better punishment.

With blatant racial disparities being a key component of who is executed in our prison system, a startling number of innocent people put to death and even those who have victims of their crimes advocating for life in prison instead, isn’t it time we take the instance of yet another failed execution attempt to discuss not how to execute people better, but how to get rid of the death penalty all together?

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson4 years ago

Two thoughts on this: 1. He suffered needlessly. 2. He got what he deserved.

Did his victim suffer. Everyone forgets about the victim thus victimizing the victim once more.

Melissa k.
Melissa k4 years ago

Sending someone to death makes the people involved in killing them no better than the murderers themselves. I believe no one has the right to choose whether another person lives or dies. I also believe that people who commit horrendous crimes should have to spend every minute from the point they are deemed guilty to the end of their (hopefully) very long healthy life (thanks to the medical care given in prison) locked up in a steel box thinking about the disgusting things they've done.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe4 years ago

I think I do believe in the death penalty, if there is undeniable proof.
I really hate the life imprisonment thing because too many prisons are letting them out after so many years. Plus, I hate it that they are getting free room & board plus food and medical care where as I have to pay for all those things and have not committed a crime!!!

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm4 years ago

No one wants to talk about the innocent who get put to death. It doesnt satisfy their need for vengeance. On top of that half the responsers arent reasding other responses they read the hedline and hit respond without even understanding what the article is about.

Tim W.
Timothy W4 years ago

It seems like none of the people who are pro death penalty want to answer or address the question about all the people who are executed and then found to have been innocent. They just want to focus on the justness of killing some one who has killed. Some one please answer what about the innocent people executed. How will they get their justus. Will someone exact revenge for them ass well.

Melissa Holt
Melissa Holt4 years ago

After what that man did to that young woman, he deserved to die a slow death...just like he put her thru'. Karma is a bitch.

Tim W.
Timothy W4 years ago

Jane R.
what about the ones that suffer through the execution, and then are found to be innocent. Of course I guess first we would have to change the name of the action from execution to murder. Then do the people who unjustly murdered him get to be injected as well. Or would you be one of those who actually think that a few accidental casualties are acceptable.

Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

If you don't want to be put to death then don't kill another liv person or you get what you deserve. If you suffer during the lethal injection, I'm sorry but your victim probably suffered too.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana G4 years ago

The death penalty is wrong. (1) The executioner, paid by taxpayers, knows this person is strapped and defenseless and protecting society is something already accomplished by separating him from society. (2) The executioner is being paid to MURDER. We have created another murderer. (3) The money issue doesn't come up when the murder machine, the Pentagon, makes its decisions. Invading countries, setting up torture camps, keeping up their gigantic spy operational structure, plus all the horrid things in history... With them money is no problem. That's psychopathic reasoning. Maybe in a balanced society with less racism and a narrower social divide, serious questions can be asked as to how people reach a state of mind where they inflict cruelty and cut off someone's else's life. In the USA, where violence is cherished as a means of "protecting democracy" understood as having all the privileges and asking no questions about how those privileges are originated and maintained, who is being sacrificed and in how many ways, inhumaneness and mental sickness will necessarily be a by product. How can all the defenders of the death penalty not see this is beyond comprehension! No death penalty in Sweden, Norway, Finland and in most European and Latin American countries... In Cuba it is very rately used when population size is considered. Good Grief!!! Doesn't those stats tell you something is wrong in your reasoning in the USA?