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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Botched execution in the news

Botched executions are nothing new. See?

And then, last night, in Oklahoma, we saw this (from the Death Penalty Information Center):

BREAKING NEWS: (4/29). The first of two planned executions in Oklahoma tonight was botched, with the inmate, Clayton Lockett, dying of a heart attack. Lockett sat up and uttered words, even as the execution was going forward. The second execution of Charles Warner was called off. Oklahoma was trying a new execution protocol for the first time. It had refused to reveal the source of the drugs or the names of those involved.

Why did this happen? Here are the basic facts:

* The Constitutionality of lethal injection in Oklahoma, like in other states, is being challenged on the basis of allegedly causing pain to inmates
* Painful and lingering deaths are considered a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, according to the US Supreme Court
* States are thus changing their execution protocols, including which drugs they use to put inmates to death and where they get the drugs
* In Oklahoma, the process was kept secret
* Inmates challenged the process
* An Oklahoma court declared a stay in these two executions for this reason
* Oklahoma's governor said she was going to make sure they were killed anyway, in spite of the court order
* The court lifted the stay

And the rest is history. More of our sordid death penalty history, that is.

According to 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.

Now, let's be clear. We're not talking about a nice guy here. From the AP:

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.

Regardless, to be put to death, the practice has to be Constitutional. And right now, it is not.

Incredibly, another inmate in Oklahoma was supposed to be executed the same night. But his execution was stayed for 14 days after this mess. What was he convicted of?

According to the AP: 

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.

See that last part? Don't think it's possible?

Consider this then:

On April 28 a study published in the prestigous Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that far more innocent people have been sentenced to death than those found through the legal process. According to the study, many innocent defendants are probably not being identified because they were taken off death row and given a lesser sentence. The rate of exonerations for those sentenced to death would be over twice as high if all cases were given the heightened scrutiny often accorded to those who remain on death row. The authors of "The Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants Who are Sentenced to Death" concluded: "[A] conservative estimate of the proportion of erroneous convictions of defendants sentenced to death in the United States from 1973 through 2004 [is] 4.1%." The percentage of death row inmates who were actually exonerated during the time of the study was only 1.6%. Professor Samuel Gross (pictured) of the University of Michigan Law School, one of the authors of the study, pointed to the gravity of the problem: “Since 1973, nearly 8,500 defendants have been sentenced to death in the United States, and 138 of them have been exonerated. Our study means that more than 200 additional innocent defendants have been sentenced to death in that period. Most of these undiscovered innocent capital defendants have been resentenced to life in prison, and then forgotten.”

Are you tired of this process yet?

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