Botched execution takes 40 minutes to kill murderer

A horrifying failure of execution drugs led to what opponents of capital punishment view as a watershed moment in Oklahoma on Tuesday night, as described  by the Associated Press:

Clayton Lockett, 38, was declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of the state’s new three-drug lethal injection combination was administered. Three minutes later, though, he began breathing heavily, writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.

The blinds were eventually lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening in the death chamber, and the state’s top prison official eventually called a halt to the proceedings. Lockett died of a heart attack a short time later, the Department of Corrections said.

“It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched,” said Lockett’s attorney, David Autry.

That sure does sound horrible, no matter what Lockett did to end up on the execution table.  The Associated Press doesn’t see fit to inform readers of that little detail until 16 paragraphs later:

A four-time felon, Lockett was convicted of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999 after Neiman and a friend arrived at a home the men were robbing.

[Charles] Warner had been scheduled to be put to death two hours later in the same room and on the same gurney. The 46-year-old was convicted of raping and killing his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter in 1997. He has maintained his innocence.

Lockett and Warner had sued the state for refusing to disclose details about the execution drugs, including where Oklahoma obtained them.

The case, filed as a civil matter, placed Oklahoma’s two highest courts at odds and prompted calls for the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices after the court last week issued a rare stay of execution. The high court later dissolved its stay and dismissed the inmates’ claim that they were entitled to know the source of the drugs.

By then, Fallin had weighed into the matter by issuing a stay of her own ??? a one-week delay in Lockett’s execution that resulted in both men being scheduled to die on the same day.

Whew!  What a lucky break for the guy who raped and murdered that 11-month old girl!  He’s already been in prison almost 20 times longer than she was alive; maybe he’ll live to a ripe old age now.  He might even catch another lucky break if the people who think capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment turn their compassionate attention to life sentences without parole next, and get them declared cruel and unusual.

Even after the AP finally gets around to telling us why Lockett was on Death Row, they (and most other media sources I’ve seen) are really soft-selling Lockett’s criminal record.  Here’s his rap sheet.  Felonies, armed robberies, a few counts of witness intimidation, four counts of kidnapping, four counts of first-degree rape… yeah, the world is really going to miss having this guy around.

I have yet to see a mainstream media source that details exactly how young Stephanie Neiman died at Clayton Lockett’s hands.  As with the Associated Press report excerpted above, they make it sound like she blundered into the robbery and was instantly gunned down by the started thugs.  Not so.  She was beaten, abused, and terrorized for quite a while before this animal finally pulled the trigger.  From the Tulsa World:

Stephanie Neiman was proud of her shiny new Chevy truck with the Tasmanian Devil sticker on it and a matching “Tazz” license plate.

Her parents had taught the teenager to stand up for “what was her right and for what she believed in.”

Neiman was dropping off a friend at a Perry residence on June 3, 1999, the same evening Clayton Lockett and two accomplices decided to pull a home invasion robbery there. Neiman fought Lockett when he tried to take the keys to her truck.

The men beat her and used duct tape to bind her hands and cover her mouth. Even after being kidnapped and driven to a dusty country road, Neiman didn’t back down when Lockett asked if she planned to contact police.

The men had also beaten and kidnapped Neiman’s friend along with Bobby Bornt, who lived in the residence, and Bornt’s 9-month-old baby.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong. Maybe that’s what Clayton was so scared of, because Stephanie did stand up for her rights,” her parents later wrote to jurors in an impact statement. “She did not blink an eye at him. We raised her to work hard for what she got.”

[…] Neiman was forced to watch as Lockett’s accomplice, Shawn Mathis, spent 20 minutes digging a shallow grave in a ditch beside the road. Her friends saw Neiman standing in the ditch and heard a single shot.

Lockett returned to the truck because the gun had jammed. He later said he could hear Neiman pleading, “Oh God, please, please” as he fixed the shotgun.

The men could be heard “laughing about how tough Stephanie was” before Lockett shot Neiman a second time.

“He ordered Mathis to bury her, despite the fact that Mathis informed him Stephanie was still alive.”

You’re going to see a lot of pictures of Lockett as death-penalty opponents use his hideous final hour to make their point.  You won’t see many of Stephanie Neiman.  Here she is, at her high-school graduation, two weeks before she refused to back down before a cheap thug, and he murdered her:


Her family issued a statement on the day of the execution: “God blessed us with our precious daughter, Stephanie, for 19 years.  Stephanie loved children.  She worked in Vacation Bible School and always helped with our Church nativity scenes.  She was the joy of our life.  We are thankful this day has finally arrived and justice will finally be served.”

There should be stringent quality control for executions.  Obviously something went terribly wrong with Lockett’s execution.  There have been controversies about the quality of execution drugs over the years, and the composition of the terminal drug “cocktails” used in different states.  Some drug manufacturers refuse to allow the use of their products in execution procedures, prompting state governments to seek potentially less effective or more expensive alternatives.

Another Associated Press report notes that two of the three drugs used on Lockett – the sedative midazolam and the paralytic vercuronium bromide – carry warnings about possible respiratory side effects.  CNN’s account of the execution says one of Lockett’s veins “exploded” during the procedure, and quotes some witnesses saying the midazolam sedative appears to have failed, leaving the condemned man at least semi-conscious during the subsequent ordeal.  The office of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin disputes those accounts, saying execution officials are convinced “Lockett remained unconscious after the lethal injection drugs were administered.”

There should be protocols for handling situations like this – some emergency measure that will put the condemned away, quick and clean, if the prescribed execution method doesn’t work.  To be brutally honest, I don’t have all that much trouble with Clayton Lockett getting a taste of the fear and suffering he inflicted on his victim during her last hour, and I wonder how much the deterrent value of the death penalty might increase if prospective murderers knew this was how they might end up.

But that’s me being brutally honest.  As a matter of policy, the death penalty should be administered in a swift and human fashion.  One of the most compelling arguments I hear against it is that we shouldn’t trust our bumbling, overbearing, increasingly corrupt government with the power to execute people.  But news flash: they already have lethal powers, which they use every day, somewhere in America.  We apply strict controls to the exercise of lethal force, and that is highly appropriate in all contexts – from the police officer forced to draw his weapon on the street, to the execution chamber of Oklahoma.

And when it comes to mistrusting government… well, I don’t know that I trust them to keep murderous animals behind bars forever, either.  How long was the anguish of the Neiman family supposed to be dragged out, while Stephanie’s murder did… what?  Catch up on his reading?  Write poetry?  Wait for some pressure group to find a way to spring him from jail?

Sometimes it is argued that we shouldn’t focus on the details of the crime, or the personal stories of the victims.  Why not?  The rest of our government apparatus works that way.  Everything else we do is based on developing sympathy for people the government is supposed to help, or antipathy for the people it wants to penalize.  Why should the question of punishment for brutal murders be the only social issue where clinical dispassion is required?

It seems to me that death penalty opponents, in a variety of ways, have made that penalty almost impossible to administer in a clean and timely fashion – including the companies that won’t sell reliable drugs to penal systems.  Now they’re protesting against the mess they helped to create.  There’s no logical reason Clayton Lockett’s departure from this world could not have occurred on time, with a swift boarding process for his final journey.  Sorry if that sounds cold, but I can’t help thinking about what the world lost when a courageous young woman refused to keep silent in the face of threats from murderous criminals, and how they didn’t care at all about making her execution swift and humane.