On Sunday, two of my Tulsa World colleagues published a detailed and grisly account of the state of Oklahoma’s crude execution of murderer Clayton Lockett, a stone killer convicted (and by all accounts rightfully so) of shooting a young woman and then burying her alive. There seems to be no doubt of his guilt.
Lockett and another murderer, Charles Warner, were to be executed by lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on April 29. Because the state could no longer get the drugs it had formerly used in executions, it was trying a new combination of uncertain effectiveness.
For reasons explained in the stories linked above, Lockett’s execution turned into a blood-soaked “cluster,” as one of those responsible for carrying it out put it. When Lockett finally died, almost an hour after the execution began, it was from a heart attack.
Predictability, the response to this has been, “So what?” His crime having been particularly cold-blooded, Lockett could hardly have been a less sympathetic figure. Many objected to descriptions of the execution as “botched.” Lockett was supposed to die and he did, and if it turned out to take a little longer and be a lot more painful than expected, so much the better.
The obvious answer to that is the U.S. Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment,” and that what happened in Oklahoma’s execution chamber on April 29 seems to fall into that category.
But there is more to it than that. This is not about Clayton Lockett. It’s about us. It’s about doing things right. It’s about respect for the law and behaving like a civil society and not a lynch mob. The Eighth Amendment is there for a reason.
People who believe the death penalty should remain an option — and I’m one of them — ought to be outraged by what happened to Clayton Lockett, not because of Clayton Lockett, but because it reeks of incompetence and gives impetus to those who believe execution itself is cruel and unusual punishment.