In a new column in
, contributing editor Andrew Cohen discusses how Monday night’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma affects the death penalty debate. Lockett was convicted of the shooting death of a 19-year-old woman and of watching as two accomplices buried her alive during a burglary gone wrong in 1999, and was scheduled to be executed last night.
Officials refused to disclose the combination of untested lethal drugs planned for Lockett’s execution and what followed was a botched execution that resulted in Lockett dying of a heart attack. Cohen writes:
Although officials in other states have also denied requests for transparency about lethal injection protocols, Oklahoma’s legal conflicts on the issue have been particularly intense. When the state supreme court early last week sought to halt the process, state lawmakers quickly moved to try to impeach the justices. And the governor, Mary Fallin, issued an order decreeing that she would not abide by the judicial ruling of her state’s highest court.
So the execution of Clayton Lockett proceeded. What happened was anything but standard: The man’s heart essentially exploded after officials stopped pumping his body full of the deadly chemicals. “We always argue that something like this is going to happen,” one defense attorney close to the case told me Tuesday night, “but we always hope it won’t.” This time, it did.
As news of the botched execution spread last night there were two familiar and predictable threads. There were those who were shocked that such an avoidable act would take place in their name. And there were those who were glad Lockett is dead and wondered what the fuss was about. Those in the first category saw his death as another sign of the immorality of capital punishment. Those in the latter group saw it as a measure of justice. He still didn’t suffer as much as his victims, one commentator after another made a point of telling me.
This latter sentiment may be a form of “justice” but it surely is not one of law. One can support the death penalty in general, and in the case of Clayton Lockett, and still be morally repulsed by the idea of torturing a man to death under color of law in circumstances in which the torturers knew or should have known their conduct would violate the Constitution. An eye-for-an-eye does not raise anyone up; it just brings us down to the level of the condemned.
The Innocence Project supports a moratorium on capital punishment until the causes of wrongful convictions are fully identified and remedied. Eighteen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 229 years in prison — including 202 years on death row — for crimes they didn’t commit.
More about the innocent and the death penalty