How We Kill

May 1, 2014 — Leave a comment

Oklahoma executed someone on Tuesday – very badly. No one denies the man, Clayton D Lockett, was repellent – he was a convicted rapist and murderer sentenced to death after shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman when a home invasion went terribly wrong in 1999. He then watched as two accomplices buried her alive.

Lockett was injected with a cocktail of drugs, with Jerry Massie, a corrections spokesman, warning observers the execution might take longer than usual. What they did not expect was for Lockett to mumble and writhe in agony 16 minutes after the process started, and after it had been announced he was unconscious. Robert Patton, director of Oklahoma’s department of corrections, stopped the execution after it was found a vein had blown, with Lockett finally dying from a massive heart attack 30 minutes later.

Another man, Charles Warner, also convicted of a heinous crime, was due to be executed later in the evening. After the earlier debacle his execution was postponed for 14 days, in order for a full investigation to be conducted.

On the face of it, there is little doubt both men were/are barbarous and should be punished for the rest of their natural lives, but what right do we have to take a life for a life? To follow the Code of Hammurabi wherein punishment is scaled – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and so on – the law of retaliation, or reciprocity.

Jay Carney, White House spokesman said, “We have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely – and I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.”

How can we say the death penalty is ever justified? Too many mistakes have been made with wrongful convictions to ever allow us complete certainty as to a person’s guilt. The loping of a hand, or stoning, somewhere else in the world, sends shudders coursing through our bodies, so to should execution by any form in this country.

There was controversy surrounding the execution even before Tuesday night’s events, as both prisoners challenged the secrecy around the source of drugs necessary for state-sanctioned killing. Many pharmaceutical companies understandably refusing to provide the necessary drugs – they are after all in the business of saving lives. In the Oklahoma incident each of the three executioners plunged a syringe filled with the drugs, midazolam, a sedative, followed by vecuronium bromide, which stops the breathing and finally potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Here in Texas we proudly promise to stand by our execution protocols having had great success in killing 33 people since 2012 with a single dose of pentobarbital. The question of where the drug comes from has been kept secret since the Danish manufacturer, Lundbeck, objected to being associated with executions and changed its distribution system. Now drug-compounding companies mix the required ingredients and the killing continues.

I can only imagine the anguish and pain families go through when horrors are wrought on their kith and kin, but I have to hope I would get no peace from determining the perpetrator, in return, should die.

All those executed have someone, somewhere, who loved them.


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