Death Penalty The Daily Banter

The Botched Execution of Clayton Lockett and Why I’m Ambivalent About the Death Penalty

In the Summer of 1999, Clayton Lockett and two accomplices, including a man named Shawn Mathis, were burglarizing a home when they were interrupted by 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman as she dropped off her friend who happened to live there. Neiman put up a fight when Lockett attempted to grab the keys to her new Chevy pickup truck. So the men beat her, wrapped her arms, mouth and legs with duct tape and then Lockett and his cohorts beat up Neiman’s friend, as well as another resident of the home and that person’s 9-month-old child.

It gets worse.

Neiman and her friends were abducted and driven out to a remote country road. Lockett and his victims waited while Mathis chipped away at the ground, digging a small grave along the road. Neiman was placed in the ditch and Lockett shot her with a sawed off shotgun. But she survived and began pleading for her life. Another shot, but this time the gun jammed. A third shot hit its target.

But Stephanie Neiman was still alive. So Lockett and Mathis buried her anyway. Alive.

Fast forward to Tuesday night. After being prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death, with the ruling upheld by an Oklahoma appellate court, Lockett was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the state penitentiary in McAlester, OK. The chemical cocktail used for the execution hadn’t been tested. The Guardian‘s Katie Fretland reported earlier in the week:

The state plans to lethally inject Lockett…with midazolam followed by vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Florida has used a similar method, but it employed a dose of midazolam that is five times greater. And Ohio used midazolam with a different drug, hydromorphone, in the January execution of Dennis McGuire, which took longer than 20 minutes.

Oklahoma corrections spokesman Jerry Massie briefed the media and said the executions will likely take longer than normal, because the first drug is expected to work more slowly.

“Don’t be surprised,” Massie said.

In spite of Massie’s eerie caveat, it appears as though corrections officials administering the injections were very surprised when the execution went nightmarishly awry.

Ten minutes into the procedure, Lockett lapsed into unconsciousness. But then, minutes later, he began to writhe and convulse. The AP reported that Lockett was “clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.” The convulsing and gasping reportedly continued for another 10 minutes. Spectators were blocked from continuing to view the scene. The execution was finally aborted after an agonizing 24 minutes. But Lockett who died of a heart attack more than an hour later.

It turns out the chemicals failed to rush into Lockett’s body quickly enough — something having to do with a “vein failure” — and hence the slow death. Clayton Lockett was sentenced in a court of law to die, and death is what he got. Though it should never have happened this way.

I wanted to lead off this post with the story of what exactly Lockett did to find himself strapped to a gurney inside an execution chamber. In discussions of the death penalty, it’s often too easy to overlook or even forget what execution-worthy trespasses were committed, therefore the criminal is often granted undue sympathy. Make no mistake, Lockett was the worst of the worst — burying a teenager alive, beating a 9-month-old baby, multiple kidnappings, burglary and inflicting psychological torture upon the slain teen’s friends by forcing them to watch. Unforgivable and worthy of harsh punishment.

Clearly, I’m ambivalent about the death penalty. On one hand… READ MORE