Botched execution shows need to end death penalty

April 30, 2014 

Oklahoma officials were determined to execute two men convicted of murders in the late 1990s, so determined that they were willing to kill both men in one evening.

But the double billing in the death chamber was called off Tuesday after the first execution was botched. A drug cocktail, the contents of which the state refused to divulge and the state Supreme Court meekly allowed to remain secret, didn’t work properly because of what state officials called a “vein failure.”

The inmate, Clayton Lockett, 38, struggled after the injection, causing a doctor to call off the execution, but Lockett was pronounced dead of a heart attack 45 minutes after the execution began. At one point before officials lowered the blinds in the death chamber, Lockett writhed, appeared to try to sit up on his gurney and mumbled words witnesses couldn’t understand.

The dying inmate’s words were unintelligible, but his manner of death was a clear and powerful rebuttal to those who insist that state-administered execution is a form of justice. It is not justice. It is vengeance. It is a sentence arbitrarily imposed and, as many convictions reversed by DNA evidence have shown, sometimes imposed on innocent people.

The United States is deeply ambivalent about this absolute penalty. Eighteen states have banned capital punishment, six of them since 2007. Others, including North Carolina, have suspended executions while legal challenges work their way through the courts. North Carolina’s last execution was in 2006.

Indeed, it was this very queasiness about the state’s killing people that contributed to the spectacle in Oklahoma. Rather than hang people at noon outside the courthouse, states carry out executions at night using a lethal injection that, in theory, ends a life without cruelty. But companies that make the drugs are refusing to provide them for executions. So states are trying secret drug combinations that turn the already immoral act of execution into a fatal human experiment as well.

Oklahoma officials said they were carrying out justice Tuesday night. What they did looked like torture. It’s time for capital punishment to meet its own demise.

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