Clayton Lockett execution: Oklahomans left stunned after criticism of botched execution

Many in the state support the death penalty, but question the use of lethal injection after the 38-year-old inmate died of an apparent heart attack

Geneva Miller was a bit annoyed as she dug into a sandwich at the Heavenly Delights bakery, where wooden signs line the walls bearing affirmations of food and family.

She could not believe that her state, Oklahoma, with its strong support for capital punishment, was being pilloried across the nation, and the world, because of one botched execution. "We're just crazy about how everybody thinks Oklahoma is bad for supporting the death penalty," she said. "We just don't understand how they could think otherwise – that it wouldn't be right."

New details continued to spill out last week about the fumbled execution of inmate Clayton Lockett, 38, who died of an apparent heart attack on Tuesday after authorities halted a lethal injection that caused him to convulse and a vein to burst. The case prompted state officials to order a review of the way executions are carried out and has revived a national debate over whether the death penalty is inhumane.

Late on Friday, President Barack Obama, who supports the death penalty for heinous crimes including mass murder, said the Oklahoma case was "extremely troubling" and should prompt a re-examination of the way executions were carried out. There were now "significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied" across the US, Mr Obama said, adding that he would ask the Attorney General, Eric Holder, to investigate problems surrounding its application. "And this situation in Oklahoma, I think, just highlights some of the … the significant problems there," Mr Obama added.

End times: An official waits for word of the execution End times: An official waits for word of the execution But for Ms Miller and many other Oklahomans, Lockett – who shot and ordered the live burial of 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman – got exactly what he deserved.

"It's like the Lord said: 'You reap what you sow'," said one customer who had just finished eating at a diner in Checotah, Oklahoma. At the Harbor Mountain Coffee House in McAlester, about two miles from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the site of the botched execution, customer James Barr said: "I think he got what's coming to him."

For McAlester, a town of 18,000 about 90 miles south of Tulsa, executions have become a routine occurrence at the hulking white penitentiary and its outbuildings, all surrounded by a high fence and barbed wire, on the edge of town.

Travis Boatner, as he scrubbed the coffee shop's white walls and swept the floor behind the counter, said people had been talking about the Lockett execution but that there was little argument. "There's really not much of a debate," he said. "This is the part of the country where people pretty much argue an eye for an eye."

Lockett was convicted of murder and other charges, including rape, in 2000 after he and two accomplices attacked two young women, one of whom – Ms Neiman – Lockett shot twice. Lockett then ordered his accomplices to bury her alive, witnesses said.

Capital punishment is broadly popular in Oklahoma, where voters chose the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by a two-to-one margin over Mr Obama in the 2012 presidential election. Governor Mary Fallin and other Republicans dominate state politics.

However, Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said there would "definitely be litigation" in the aftermath of Lockett's death. He added that however popular capital punishment remained in the state, the death had sparked concerns among proponents about how the process was carried out. "This brings up the question, is there a humane way to deliberately take the life of a person?" he said.

The execution saw the use of a drug combination that had not previously been used in the state. Lockett convulsed violently during the execution and tried to lift his head after a doctor had declared him unconscious, then died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

A microphone hangs over the gurney in the Texas death house A microphone hangs over the gurney in the Texas death house Aaron Totani, a massage therapist from McAlester, said he was a proponent of capital punishment and believed that prisons should bring back chain gangs. But he voiced concern over the bungled execution and how Lockett may have been treated beforehand. Officials said Lockett was Tasered and refused food in the hours before his death.

During the execution, medical officials struggled to find a suitable vein, and a doctor ended up inserting the IV needle into Lockett's groin. Mr Totani wondered whether Lockett was properly hydrated, as a lack of fluids can cause veins to collapse. The botching of the execution, he said, was "a bit torturous".

Ron Grubis, a retired high school principal and a staunch supporter of capital punishment, asked: "Why is it so hard to kill anybody with drugs? Shouldn't it be simple?" Death row inmates should be able to choose how they died, he said. "We can go back to giving people a choice. Let's go back to the firing squad. There's no such thing as a totally painless execution."

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary was depicted in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath as the prison from which Tom Joad is released. It was also the site of one of the worst prison riots in US history when, in 1973, three inmates died after the prison was set ablaze.

Richard Coleman, a retired police officer from Tulsa, said he supported the death penalty for heinous crimes. He has met prisoners and brought teenagers to the prison as part of a "scared straight" programme. The students are shown "Sparky", the disabled electric chair, in a museum on the prison grounds.

But Mr Coleman said his decades in law enforcement had led him to believe that the state was too concerned with locking people up and not enough with rehabilitation. And while he thinks lethal injection is the most humane way to kill someone, the problems with it are troubling. "Oklahoma has a bad enough reputation. We don't need this," he said. "People think we're rednecks and everything. Let's get this right."

© Washington Post

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future