June's issue of the Atlantic packages Jeffrey E. Stern's 9,000-word piece on Clayton Lockett's botched April 2014 execution in Oklahoma as the "untold story" of what happened. And while many of the details have surfaced elsewhere—a September report by the Oklahoma Office of Public Safety, for instance, noted the 38-year-old had been hoarding the anti-anxiety med hydroxyzine, and Mother Jones framed it as evidence Lockett was trying to take his own life—Stern gets deeper inside that cell and this story. From Stern's lead: "Before a team of correctional officers came to get him at 5:06am, he fashioned a noose out of his sheets. He pulled the blade out of a safety razor and made half-inch-long cuts on his arms. He swallowed a handful of pills that he’d been hoarding." From there, Stern presents an incredibly comprehensive and nuanced portrait of what preceded Lockett's death—and of that death itself.
He paints a picture of Stephanie Neiman, the bold 19-year-old Lockett shot before she was buried alive; charts the journey America's prisons have taken in the last two decades to secure lethal injection drugs; introduces the surprising people often responsible for choosing the drugs used; weaves in Katie Fretland, the young reporter who had been digging into Oklahoma's death penalty practices since 2012 and was present for Lockett's execution; shares details from Lockett's dark childhood; and relays in stomach-turning detail the dozen-plus attempts to get an IV into Lockett. And then there's what came next: "He started writhing as if trying to free himself, to get up off the gurney. … Another witness saw Lockett open his eyes and look right at the doctor, like something out of a horror movie. … From the viewing area, Katie Fretland could see the doctor’s face for the first time, and his expression was clear: Oh, f---." Read Stern's piece in full here. (Read more Clayton Lockett stories.)