On Botched Executions

Stephanie Neiman portrait photo

Stephanie Neiman

One day in Oklahoma in 1999, Clayton Lockett and a couple friends decided to rob a house. Unfortunately for 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman, she and a friend came “home” to that house, interrupting the intruders. I don’t know what happened to her friend, but Stephanie was beaten and bound with duct tape. Lockett shot her twice with a sawed-off shotgun, then ordered and watched as his accomplices buried her alive in a shallow grave, where she bled and suffocated to death. (UPDATE 5/8/2014: For more details of what happened during the robbery/rape/murder, go here.) Lockett has been incarcerated for 14 years for that horrific crime, and just the other day he was executed.

Justice is served.

But, something very rare occurred during the execution by lethal injection. Lockett, 38, did not react as expected to the state’s new 3-drug protocol. (For some reason, Oklahoma authorities decided to only use 100mg of the first drug, the sedative midazolam, rather than the 500mg that Florida authorities have been using.) Despite being officially declared unconscious 10 minutes after initial injection, Lockett soon afterward began moving his mouth, then convulsing and mumbling incoherently. At one point, he purportedly sat up (or tried to, against his restraints) and said, “Something’s wrong!” Sixteen minutes in, the paralytic was to be administered but it was determined that the “line had blown” (i.e., Lockett’s vein had ruptured). The blinds to the viewing room were then closed, the warden agreed with the Dept. of Corrections to halt the execution, but it didn’t matter. After a total of 43 minutes, Lockett was declared dead of a massive heart attack at 7:06pm. An investigation as to what exactly happened is underway.

Naturally, seeing Lockett struggling and writhing like that must have been disturbing, especially to those who are against the death penalty in the first place. Lockett’s attorney, David Autry, said, “It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched.” So, of course, the MSM has been making a huge deal of all of this and giving activists a platform.

“Adam Leathers, co-chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, accused the state of having ‘tortured a human being in an unconstitutional experimental act of evil,’ reported CNN.”

Good grief!

Richard Dieter, executive director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, anticipated the public outcry over these events aiding their efforts to put a stop to lethal injection, at least until the process is better understood and the States are more transparent. He went on to say,

“Somebody died because of the state’s incompetency.”

Wrong, Mr. Dieter. A convicted murderer was constitutionally executed by the state because he was found guilty of a terrible, capital crime. From what I can tell, his guilt is not disputed. The problem(s) that resulted in a delay in the murderer’s passing are separate and incidental.

The White House has also chimed in to say that, while the heinousness of Lockett’s crimes warranted capital punishment, the execution was not “humane”, as required by law. President Obama himself said he finds it “deeply troubling”, but then he went on to say that this situation is evident of larger problems in the justice system, particularly in regards to application of the death penalty and supposed “racial bias”. (Never miss an opportunity….) No, Mr. President, this is only evident of a single incident which may or may not have been prevented by, say, a higher dosage of midazolam or a more carefully applied intravenous line.

I’m not going to argue now for capital punishment. Obviously, I support it, but I’ll make that case in another post… someday. (I know, I know. I said that months ago.) The specific issue at hand is whether or not so much hay should be made of the fact that, on this particular occasion, something went wrong, which caused the inmate being executed to experience some pain for a few minutes before finally dying. (I doubt it was intentional, despite Leathers’ hysterical claims.) Should we really get upset when a monster like that suffers a bit?

Clayton Lockett - executed murderer

Clayton Lockett

Frankly, it really doesn’t bother me too much if someone like that — like Clayton Lockett — experiences some pain when he’s on his way out. (Yes, I am assuming guilt for purposes of this discussion.) To add another dimension to it, as a Christian I believe such a person has an eternity of agony and torment in store for him or her on the other side. If one of them occasionally, perhaps accidentally, kicks that off with some extra pain & suffering on this side of the grave, I have no problem with that.

Now, as indicated above, some of the protestors have been saying that this “botched execution” is evidence of the government’s ineptitude and that lethal injection should be done away with as a method of execution temporarily, at the very least, but preferably permanently. I certainly won’t dispute that government can be inept — at some times and in some things more than others. But, I don’t think that’s really the problem. And, if they succeed in getting a ban on lethal injection, what would they prefer?

I will note, as others have, that methods like hanging, electrocution, and firing squad have been used in the past and considered not particularly cruel or inhumane. By most, anyway. Apparently, enough people eventually spoke up and exercised sufficient influence to get these methods outlawed in most states. (I am making an assumption here, since I haven’t had time to research it.) Same would go for a couple other methods, like the gas chamber. I think much of the objection to these has been the violent, painful, and traumatic nature of the death and that it might take several minutes for the condemned to actually die. But, as Kent Scheidegger of the pro-death-penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation pointed out,

“We should have kept the gas chamber and merely used a different gas. Carbon monoxide, for example, is painless.”

Let me make a couple other suggestions…. First, decapitation by guillotine. This method has been quite popular in various cultures throughout the ages. Most of us think of it as being rather gruesome, and I’m sure I have offended (or at least grossed out) some readers by merely suggesting it. But, consider that it is very quick and quite painless. (Unlike the jihadist version of beheading, which truly is barbaric and inhumane.) Second, double tap at close range. That is, two quick shots, either both to the head or one to the head & one to the heart. Granted, this might be a little messier, but I’m sure a solution or two could be developed, and it would also result in a quick and painless death. Both of these methods are also fairly cheap to carry out, too. Certainly cheaper than buying and administering all of those drugs for lethal injection. Plus, as a final bonus, these methods would be hard to “botch” and also leave extremely little chance for faking one’s death only to be revived later and escape. (Perhaps I’ve been watching too much TV/movies? Yes, that last bit was an example of actual “gallows humor”.)

Generally speaking, I think prisoners in America these days have it too easy — particularly the hard-cases. Why should people who commit serious, sometimes violent crimes get cable TV and internet access, for example? I’m not advocating harsh treatment or feeding them gruel. Nothing “cruel and inhumane”. But, it bugs me when unrepentant rapists, gang-bangers, and terrorists get more benefits and privileges than some law-abiding citizens. Violent criminals deserve harsh punishment, and anything beyond “three hots and a cot” is up for debate.

It’s about time that people — liberals, mostly, like Obama — stopped worrying so much about the “rights” of murderers and other violent criminals and whether or not 1 in 100,000 might unintentionally, temporarily suffer a little extra pain or discomfort. Their victims — like innocent Stephanie Neiman — are the ones who were beaten, raped, tortured, and/or brutally killed and didn’t deserve to. Where is the liberal compassion for them? What about their rights that were violated to the nth degree by these monsters? That is what is “not humane” and should be deeply, deeply troubling.

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