While the news media has rightly focused the better part of a week covering the deplorable statements made by career-racist Donald Sterling, it seemed as if the legalized double-lynching of two African American men scheduled to take place in Oklahoma Tuesday night was about to go virtually unnoticed. That was, until the State of Oklahoma completely botched the execution of one of the men and failed to succeed in covering their tracks. The first inmate, after being lethally injected, experienced what can only be described in the words of the U.S. Constitution as “cruel and unusual punishment”. Now the other inmate will spend the next two weeks wondering whether or not he will be made to suffer the same agonizing ordeal.
Regardless of what the State of Oklahoma claims in the aftermath of its flubbed execution, that such an atrocity was likely to occur didn’t come without plenty of warning. That this was a potential outcome was precisely the reason why a legal battle over these two inmates’ executions was so lengthy and drawn-out in courtrooms across the state in the first place. Ever since the European Union issued an uncompromising ban on potential execution drugs being exported to the United States, the States have become increasingly desperate and experimental in creating methods with which to kill prisoners who are marked for death. Needless to say, they have been neither forthcoming nor transparent when it comes to revealing just where and how they are coming about these dangerous drugs. Some states, Oklahoma being one of them, have gone to incredible lengths to shield their sources, even passing laws to make it illegal to reveal the names of the drugs’ manufacturers. The State of Georgia, still a racist killing-grounds in the 21st century when it comes to the to the death penalty, even labeled its drug sources a “confidential state secret”. Others, such as Louisiana, Missouri, Texas and Florida, have been equally defiant amid calls for more transparency.
The first inmate up for execution on the night of April 29th was 38 year-old Clayton Darrell Lockett, accused and convicted of the 1999 shooting of a 19 year-old woman “with a sawed-off shotgun… in rural Kay County“. He was aged 23 at the time and a “four time felon.” The second inmate, Charles Warner – who was scheduled for lethal injection just two hours after Lockett in the same spot using the same drugs, was accused and convicted of “raping and killing his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter in 1997.” However, he continues to maintain his innocence. (*) Lockett and Warner, through their attorneys, were challenging the legality of the proposed method of execution on the basis that, under the Constitution, the State is obligated “to disclose details about the execution drugs” including by what means they were obtained and from whom. In the words of Warner’s attorney Madeline Cohen, “It’s not even known if the drugs were purchased legally [or not].” These challenges resulted in stays of execution for both men, first in a lower court and then by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court. Conservative politicians staged a revolt against the Court in response, with Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Governor Mary Fallin making it known that they did not intend on honoring the Court’s order. They were reinforced by the right-wing majority in the state legislature, which demanded the immediate resignation of all of the Justices of the Court. Faced with a choice between sticking by the accurate interpretation of the Constitution OR caving to the mounting political pressure, they chose to cave and allowed the executions to go forth. It was to be the first double-execution carried out in eighty years in Oklahoma.
At 6:20 P.M. CT in the small town of McAlester, Oklahoma, reporters were gathered around the scene where the lethal executions were about to take place. Nothing but a see-through glass window separated the reporters from the chamber of death where Clayton Lockett laid helplessly strapped to a gurney. Then, at 6:23, the medical technician of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary began administering the first dosage of the three drugs meant to enter the inmate’s body through an IV needle piercing the vein. The first of the drugs, midazolam, is a sedative used to knock the inmate unconscious. However, this was the first time in Oklahoma’s history that midazolam was the first of the three drugs to be administered, “100 milligrams” to be exact. (**) Ten minutes went by before the doctor pronounced Clayton Lockett unconscious and ready for his next injections. The medical technician thus proceeded injecting the next dosage through Lockett’s vein, a mixture which consisted of a paralytic, called vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride to stop the heart from beating. But everything was not going according to plan. From underneath the sheets Lockett’s body began writing and moving, followed by his voice crying out in pain, “Oh, man!” Cary Aspinwall, a reporter for Tulsa World who witnessed these events, tweeted the following:
He is still alive, the state stopped his execution. He was lifting head at 6:39 and he was still alive and DOC closed curtain and stopped it
— Cary Aspinwall (@caryaspinwall) April 30, 2014
Lockett was in so much pain that began “clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow” while he breathed very heavily and loudly. As he fought to release himself from the gurney, the executioners quickly closed the chamber’s curtains so that the reporters were blocked from seeing what happened next. “Corrections” Director Robert Patton later said that it was at this point he decided to place a call to the Prison Warden and officially called off the execution. It wasn’t until 7:06 P.M. CT, 43 minutes after the execution began, that the medics pronounced Clayton Lockett dead; the result of a heart attack.
The medics and the State are claiming that their failure to properly carry out this execution is due primarily to one of Clayton Lockett’s veins failing, but reporters who’ve followed this case closely aren’t buying it. Witnesses say Lockett was completely healthy and showed no signs of sickness or weariness before he was lethally injected. As a result of their botching this execution, authorities have granted Charles Warner a 14-day stay. His new execution date is set for May 13th. Unfortunately, botched executions are nothing new. An article appearing in the New Republic noted how, “In 2009 an EMT in Ohio jabbed Rommell Broom with a needle 18 times trying to establish access” to the inmate’s vein. And just this past January another Ohio death row inmate named Dennis McGuire struggled for 25-26 minutes before the lethal drugs took full effect. An autopsy on Clayton Lockett’s body is currently underway. But regardless of the results, the words of Amnesty International USA‘s Stephen Hawkins ring true: “Last night the state of Oklahoma proved that justice can never be carried out from a death chamber.” It’s time to end the Killing State once and for all.
* It is important to stress that in America, being “convicted” doesn’t carry any more weight than being “accused”. If the U.S. “criminal justice” system has proven anything, it’s that this country isn’t capable of accurately deciding whether or not someone is “guilty” or “innocent”, not without an extreme amount of bias and prejudice.
** According to The Huffington Post: “Florida administers 500 milligrams of midazolam as part of its three-drug combination.“
Sources & further reading:
- Botched Oklahoma Execution Prompts Questions About Lethal Injection
- Examples of Post-Furman Botched Executions
- Oklahoma Ran Out of Drugs to Execute People, And That’s a Sign of Things to Come
- America’s Death Penalty Under Scrutiny
- Why Do We Keep Executing People?