He was tortured to death

May 1, 2014

Elizabeth Schulte reports on Oklahoma's sadistic murder of prisoner Clayton Lockett.

SUPPORTERS OF lethal injection have long claimed that this method was a "more humane" form of execution.

From now on, the answer to that false claim is simple: Clayton Lockett.

On April 29, prison officials declared 38-year-old Clayton Lockett unconscious 10 minutes after they had begun administering three drugs in the state's new lethal injection procedure. Three minutes after that, Lockett began breathing heavily, clenching his teeth, thrashing in pain, mumbling and straining to lift his head from the pillow.

The prison officials eventually lowered the blinds on the windows to the death chamber's viewing gallery and had to stop the execution. But 43 minutes after the process began, Lockett was dead of a massive heart attack.

In short, Lockett was tortured to death.

Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin was forced to order a stay of execution for Charles Warner, who was scheduled to be put to death two hours later--along with a full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures. But it's questionable how thorough this "review" will be, since Warner's stay is just 14 days long.

Clayton Lockett
Clayton Lockett

"In Oklahoma's haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world," said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, as he called for an immediate moratorium on all executions in the state.

For weeks, Oklahoma prison officials refused to disclose what chemicals they planned to use in the execution. Both inmates sued the state for refusing to provide this information, arguing that without knowing what the chemicals were and how they were manufactured, no one could know whether they would work properly--risking a potential violation of the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

These protests won the two men stays of execution--but they were later overturned by the state Supreme Court. Fallin applauded this outcome: "This ruling shows that our legal system works. The defendants had their day in court. The court has made a decision. Two men that do not contest their guilt in heinous murders will now face justice, and the families and friends of the victims will now have closure."

After the gruesome torture-murder of Clayton Lockett, Fallin should be eating these words. Instead, the day after, she made sure to emphasize that she was still a solid supporter of the death penalty. "Last night, the state of Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett," she told reporters--as if to emphasize that it didn't matter how he was executed.

PRISON OFFICIALS claim the botched execution was due to a vein failure. But Lockett's attorney David Autry had questions about the amount of the sedative, midazolam, used in the procedure, arguing that the 100 milligrams called for in Oklahoma's execution protocol was "an overdose quantity."

This was the first time that midazolam, which is supposed to make the person being put to death unconscious, has been used in Oklahoma's execution procedure. State governments that use the death penalty are experimenting with new drugs after several pharmaceutical companies withdrew their supplies of chemicals previously used in executions.

Ohio prisoner Dennis McGuire was the first person in the country to be executed with this combination of drugs earlier this year. It took almost half an hour for him to die. During that horrifying procedure, witnesses described McGuire fighting for air with his fist clenched--"like a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air that would allow it to breathe."

According to a White House statement, the execution "fell short of humane standards"--a gross understatement even for a White House familiar with manufacturing doublespeak.

The death penalty system is broken--from the moment a case is heard to the day of the execution.

One day before Lockett's death, a report was released showing that one in 25 people on death row are likely innocent. Researchers at the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at a 31-year period during which 1.6 percent of inmates sentenced to death were exonerated and freed. This means that 4 percent of death sentences send an innocent person to death row--and these are the cases that have been discovered.

The system is also deeply racist, with the death penalty disproportionately given to African Americans. Both Lockett and Warner are Black, along with 40 percent of the people on Oklahoma's death row--in a state where only 4 percent of the population is African American.

In many ways, calling this gruesome act by the state of Oklahoma a "mistake" isn't correct. The torture-murder of Clayton Lockett is the true face of the death penalty in the U.S.--carried out by a judicial system that can't be trusted with questions of life and death and a death penalty machine that is utterly barbaric.

Marlene Martin of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty explained:

Periodically a horrific botched execution will throw the death penalty into the news, and all of the sick rituals surrounding executions come out. Wiping the arm with alcohol before putting the needle in the arm, even though the person will be dead in a few minutes. Allowing a last meal, last words.

One death row prisoner made the comment that no one had ever listened to him in all the years he was in prison and now they give him the opportunity to be heard when it doesn't matter. They try to portray the whole ordeal as some sterile medical procedure--as if someone is just being put to sleep. And the idea is to say look how humane this is.

But it's not humane. Even when it goes right, it's wrong. Because behind all of this sanitized carefully orchestrated event, it's still murder. It's murder by the state. And its murdering mostly people that are too poor to buy justice, and too often those are people of color. That is the real horror they try to mask with all their IV tubings and their alcohol pads.

It's time to end all executions, once and for all--and end them now.

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