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April 30, 2014

Ugly Oklahoma execution leading to calls for national moratorium

Not surprisingly, the failing of government agents in Oklahoma to effectively and efficiently carry out a sentence of death yesterday (basics here) is now prompting new calls for a mortorium on all executions around the country.  This lengthy new Washington Post article, headlined "Botched Oklahoma execution reignites death penalty debate," provides lots of details about last night's dysfunction in Oklahoma's machinery of death and the early reactions thereto. Here are the basics:

Tuesday night’s botched execution in Oklahoma, which resulted in an inmate’s writhing death from a heart attack 43 minutes after he received what was supposed to be a lethal injection, was just one in a series of bungled execution attempts the past few years. It’s prompting calls for a moratorium on capital punishment from death penalty opponents....

Patton told reporters Lockett’s vein line had “blown.” When asked what he meant, Patton said the vein had “exploded.”  

Soon afterward, an alarmed Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin stayed for 14 days the other execution that was scheduled for Tuesday night....  “I have asked the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett,” Fallin said. “I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed.”

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, also called for an investigation as well as an immediate moratorium on all executions in the state, saying, “In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world.”  And National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty responded in a statement: “This night will be a catalyst for those aggrieved and outraged to continue to fight to abolish the death penalty in Oklahoma and every other state in America.”

Executions have become increasingly difficult for states to carry out over the past two years because of similar incidents....  These controversies have begun a whole new phase in the decades-long struggle over capital punishment.  For years, opponents of the death penalty fought about its fundamental fairness under the Constitution.  When they lost that fight, they attacked the capacity of the criminal justice system to actually mete out the death penalty reliably and without racial bias. They lost that fight, too, in the 1980s.  

Now the battle concerns not who dies, but how they die, and the competence of states to carry out executions humanely.  The visibility and drama of Oklahoma’s trouble Tuesday night is likely to intensify that conflict, though, there has been no doubt about the guilt of these two condemned men.  Lockett, 38, was convicted of shooting a teenager and watching as she was buried alive.  Warner, 46, was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend’s 11-month-old baby.  Both were set to be executed Tuesday, Lockett at 6 p.m. Central time and Warner at 8 p.m.

Lockett’s execution was halted when it appeared the lethal injection administered to him was ineffective.   Contrary to the description from media eyewitnesses, officials said he remained unconscious and passed away in the execution chamber at 7:06 p.m. “There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having that [desired] effect, and the doctor observed the line at that time and determined the line had blown,” Patton said in a news conference. “After conferring with the warden, and unknown how much drugs went into him, it was my decision at that time to stop the execution.”  Still, 43 minutes after the first injection, Lockett suffered a heart attack and died....

After Tuesday’s failure, Lockett’s attorney David Autry questioned the amount of the sedative, midazolam, that was injected, saying he thought the 100 milligrams called for in the Oklahoma’s execution protocol was “an overdose quantity.”  He said he was also skeptical of the department’s determination that Lockett’s vein had failed. Tuesday was the first time the state had administered midazolam as the first drug in its execution protocol.  

Earlier this year, the state attorney general’s office announced that a deal to obtain pentobarbital and vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer, had fallen through, and Lockett and Warner’s executions were delayed.  The new protocol was identified in court papers and included the combination of midazolam and hydromorphone....

Regarding Warner’s scheduled execution, federal public defender Madeline Cohen, one of his attorneys, told the Washington Post, “Oh, we will be pursuing further action.”

No matter what is revealed during the "full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures" ordered by Oklahoma's Governor, I would be very surprised if Oklahoma succeeds in going forward with Warner's execution in the next two weeks. And I have seen this morning press releases from the ACLU and the NACDL urging a national moratorium on executions nationwide in response to what happened in Oklahoma last night. I doubt that any other state Governors will be quick to announce execution moratorium in states that regularly carry out death sentence, but I also doubt that various groups will let up on the pressure to halt executions.

According to this DPIC "Upcoming Executions" page, there are serious execution dates scheduled in May in the states of Texas, Missouri and Ohio. Notably, as reported in this local article (which I will discuss in a later post), clemency has now been recommended in the Ohio case, and I predict it will be granted. So the states to watch real closely for execution debate an action over the next month are Missouri and Texas.

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April 30, 2014 at 09:55 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Keep in mind that capital punishment is actually far less about the actual execution as it is about DA's able to get lifetime without parole pleas. Without capital punishment, LWOP becomes the max, which means that the highest level plea will allow for the likelihood that the murderer will be able to get out of prison at some point in his life. This in turn reverberates downward, of course, as now the pleas at different levels of murder and assault get lesser maximums than before.

This is not an argument for or against capital punishment, but rather the factual results of how capital punishment actually affects punishment beyond the moral dilemma of the actual execution.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Apr 30, 2014 11:20:39 AM

The death penalty does affect pleas though supermax prisons and so forth can also be used here to determine levels of punishment. And, noting the facts as noted does not answer if the punishment is legitimate. Illegitimate punishments or treatment can be imagined that if allowed would help plea bargains.

Right now "likelihood that the murderer will be able to get out of prison" is present in death penalty states, obviously. If that is the case for LWOP too, there is always a "we mean it" LWOP. This includes the number of death sentences overturned for a range of reasons. So, we are talking scope. And, if "some point" means in your 80s or when you are decrepit or something, the difference is somewhat marginal.

And, if states execute people in single digits over spans of decades, as some do, just how much of a bargaining chip is this in most places? I guess we are dealing with somewhat irrational types though that can go various ways. Also, places like NY seem to have a good number of pleas w/o the death penalty. So, while I understand the overall argument, it just don't take me that far.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 30, 2014 11:38:15 AM

well joe that's why it's time to bring back "I sentence you to spend the rest of your natural life in prison"

as for messed up executions. well sorry but they do have a point. If your agency is so retarded you can manage to fuckup what should be a simple procedure. Pump poison into inmate till dead! you shouldn't be doing any.

last time I looked using poison to kill people is not complicated. hell civilians do it all the time every year with no instruction at all.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 30, 2014 11:49:06 AM

"Also, places like NY seem to have a good number of pleas w/o the death penalty."

This shows, Joe, that you completely miss the point. The issue is not that there are fewer pleas, but that the pleas are for lesser sentences.

As for Madeline Cohen, the true believer federal public defender, maybe her further action will be successful, but if the federal courts believe in the rule of law, they'll determine that the Oklahoma proceedings are res judicata.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 30, 2014 11:12:34 PM

interesting fed. "res judicata" that's a non starter or did you miss the new thread about a judges order for sentencing that's being tossed by a higher court even when they can point to no type of conspiracy between the defendant and the judge. Sorry in my book that's the only way to change it at that point.

which of course means if they can't accept a prior judgement that they don't like. they can keep their friggin mouths shut in cases where the shoe is on the other foot.

see me. I figure when they start tossing pig latin in their briefs they are just showing they are full of shit and trying to fast talk the normal people.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 1, 2014 1:56:53 PM

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