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White House weighs in on botched Oklahoma execution, condemning as inhumane

Execution gone wrong has revived the national debate over the death penalty.
Execution gone wrong has revived the national debate over the death penalty.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma was condemned by the White House as inhumane amidst growing outcries about the use of lethal injections to carry out the death penalty, as well as the death penalty itself.

Lockett, 38, was convicted of shooting 19-year old Stephanie Neiman and watching as two associates buried her alive in 1999. He spent the next 15 years behind bars before being scheduled for execution on Tuesday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. However, things went horribly wrong when the vein line meant to guide the cocktail of lethal drugs into his body “exploded,” according to Robert Patton, Director of the State’s Department of Corrections. Witnesses to the execution also stated that although Lockett was believed to have been unconscious, he “began grimacing, moving his head, and attempted to climb off the gurney,” leaving them horror-stricken and deeply disturbed. He then died of a heart attack minutes later.

“We have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely,” stated White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney. “And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.”

In the meantime, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has ordered an independent review of the incident, and has postponed as second execution scheduled at the same facility. The next execution scheduled for the nation is due to take place in Texas on May 13th.

Although lethal injection gained most of its support as a “cheaper” and “less painful” method of execution during the latter part of the 20th century, its use was first proposed by Julius Mount Bleyer on January 17, 1888, who saw it as a means of supplanting other methods of capital punishment such as hanging, beheading, firing squad. By using a (usual) combination of a barbiturate, paralytic, and potassium solution, the idea is to kill the condemned by “first putting them to sleep, then stopping their breathing and heart, in that order.”