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Oklahoma botched execution may violate international human rights law

Charles Warner (left) and Clayton Lockett
Charles Warner (left) and Clayton Lockett
Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections

After the botched execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett, the United Nations has taken notice. According to the United Nation’s human rights office on Friday, the inmate’s execution may amount to cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment under international human rights law.

According to Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the office, this is the second case this year in the United States that has resulted in extreme suffering from malfunctioning lethal injections. Colville told reporters in Geneva that "the apparent cruelty involved in these recent executions simply reinforces the argument that authorities across the United States should impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and work for abolition of this cruel and inhuman practice."

Lockett was officially administered a cocktail of three drugs at 6:23 p.m. on April 29 which were expected to execute him within moments. After 16 minutes into the execution, officials closed the viewing window and stated the execution would be halted. Lockett could still be seen struggling, attempting to speak, breathing heavy, and attempting to raise his head.

Robert Patton, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, spoke to the media afterwards, stating that the execution was botched and that Lockett was declared dead from a heart attack at 7:06 p.m. Patton told media that the drugs were all administered but did not have the desired effect.

An autopsy and drug toxicology test are underway. Prison officials have stated that Lockett was tased the morning of the execution for failing to leave his cell. Officials also stated Lockett had a self inflicted wound on his arm that did not require stitches.

At the beginning of the execution, the medical staff was unable to find a vein suitable for the lethal injection on the inmate’s arms, hands, or feet. According to prison officials, the lethal injection was eventually administered into Lockett’s groin.

The combination of drugs administered to Lockett was the first time for an Oklahoma execution. The state previously had trouble finding the proper drugs to execute inmates. Oklahoma then passed a law which would give full privacy to companies that could provide the drugs.

Another inmate, Charles Warner, was scheduled to be executed shortly after Lockett. Warner’s execution has been put on hold until a full investigation is complete on complications during Lockett's execution.

The dual execution had recently been put back on track after a series of court challenges by the inmates. The inmates had challenged the state to disclose information on the execution drugs, as well as where the state obtained them. Oklahoma’s Supreme Court declared that the inmates had no right to the information, and the executions were quickly rescheduled.

Lockett, 38, was convicted for the 1999 rape and murder of Stephanie Nieman, as well as multiple other convictions. Warner, 46, was convicted for the 1997 rape and murder of 11-month-old Adrianna Waller.

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