What the Botched Execution Means for the Death Penalty

Pundits think this is a turning point

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 30, 2014 1:58 PM CDT

(Newser) – Last night's ugly, bungled execution of Clayton Lockett has many wondering about the future of the death penalty in America. By rushing to execute Lockett with secretive, untested means, Oklahoma "elevated a convicted murderer to a status he surely did not deserve in life," writes Andrew Cohen at the Atlantic. If anyone deserves execution, it was Lockett, but now he's a symbol of the failures of the so-called "machinery of death," and of "feckless judicial review" from, among other places, the US Supreme Court.

"We are going to lower the blinds temporarily," the warden said as things got ugly, in a line Cohen thinks serves as "an epitaph for this affair. Virtually this entire process was done in the dark, in secret." Even if you don't feel bad for Lockett, his execution violated our legal protections against cruel punishment. "Until those blinds are raised, until this process becomes transparent in Oklahoma and everywhere else, it is unworthy of a nation that teaches its children about civilization and a rule of law." Some other opinions:

  • The worst part is that this was "entirely predictable," writes James Downie at the Washington Post, pointing out that Oklahoma had a similar incident earlier this year; witnesses say the condemned man cried out, "I feel my whole body burning," after his injection. That spooked Oklahoma into switching to the cocktail used on Lockett—but the last time it was used, in Florida, the dosage was five times stronger.
  • "He's dead ain't he? Job done," writes Jeffrey Kluger at Time, to point out the fundamental absurdity of seeking neat, clean, "safe" executions. Plenty of executions have gone wrong even with the right drug cocktail. "Executions have never been—and never will be—foolproof," he writes. "If we do decide to kill, we should not pretend we'll ever get it completely right."
  • "This may, in fact, be a turning point," writes Allahpundit at Hot Air, because it might "raise the political cost of executions to prohibitive levels." But don't expect the death penalty to go away entirely. "Too many people will read today about what Lockett did to his victim and conclude that he got a much better end than she did."
  • Erick Erickson makes much the same point at Fox News, describing the grisly death of Stephanie Neiman, whom Lockett and his accomplices beat, shot, and buried alive. But perhaps his most quotable insight came from this tweet spotted by the Wire: "If we could just go back to hangings or a firings squad, we wouldn't have to wring our hands over how humanely we execute savage murderers."

A file photo of the witness room that adjoins the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.
A file photo of the witness room that adjoins the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.   (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)
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