For death penalty advocates, Oklahoma was featuring a type of macabre double header tonight: two executions to be held within hours of each other. That objective however failed in a most disturbing possible way after the first execution of Clayton Lockett left him in obvious agony for over 25 minutes. He eventually died from a heart attack and the second execution was postponed.
Witnesses reported that Lockett could be seen kicking and lifting his head on the gurney. After sixteen minutes, the prison officials closed the blinds and barred witnesses. Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton then called a halt to the execution and issued a 14-day stay for the execution of Charles Warner. Patton described the problem as a “vein failure”
Notably, the execution tonight used a new combination of drugs after a shortage in lethal injection drugs arose from an international campaign. They gave Lockett the sedative midazolam which was to be followed by the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide to stop breathing and then potassium chloride to stop the heart.
The botched execution will only magnify concerns that there remain too many unknowns about lethal injection and that it constitutes a cruel punishment.
Notably, this incident comes a day after the release of a new report showing over four percent of death row inmates are likely innocent. The calculation of one in 25 death row being innocent in the study contradicts the earlier statistical data offered by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in a concurring opinion in 2007 when he said that the error rate was 0.027 percent “or, to put it another way, a success rate of 99.973 percent.”
The execution and the study raise two of the main objections over the death penalty: that it is cruel and that the criminal justice system still produces false convictions. However, 55 percent of people polled reportedly still support the death penalty while a substantial percentage of 39 percent now opposes it. This is clearly going to be a debate that will continue to rage, particularly after the horrific scene tonight in Oklahoma.