Clayton Lockett: If massacres don’t change gun laws, then this won’t change the death penalty

Lockett’s lawyer decribed his ordeal as ‘torture’. The incompetence is breathtaking

 

Share

If this won’t stop it, you’d think, nothing will. Tuesday’s ghoulishly botched execution in Oklahoma is but the latest in a string of such disasters that raise the issue of whether the small number of US states that actually apply the death penalty are even capable of carrying out this barbaric, low-tech ritual.

Lethal injection is supposed to be “humane”. Of the 32 states that have capital punishment on the books, all use lethal injection as their primary method (though a dozen still offer electric chair or gas chamber as an option).

Yet if any execution violated the US Constitution’s ban of “cruel and unusual punishment”, it was that of Clayton Lockett. He writhed and gasped when he was supposed to have been sedated. The execution was halted, but Lockett died in the execution chamber some 40 minutes after the procedure began, apparently of a heart attack. His lawyer described his ordeal as “torture”. The sheer incompetence is breathtaking. Vets put down animals painlessly. Not, however, Oklahoma’s executioners, when it comes to people.

Yes, the fiasco stemmed from the difficulties death-penalty states have in finding lethal drugs, now that some manufacturers are refusing to permit their products to be used. But the state’s embarrassment was compounded by a messy legal fight as lawyers for Lockett and another inmate Charles Warner (who was supposed to die two hours later) tried to block the execution on the grounds that the drugs being used by Oklahoma were untested.

The authorities ridiculed the ploy – querying the drugs was supposedly as ridiculous as a condemned inmate taking issue with the provenance of the power that fuelled the electric chair, or of the hangman’s rope. Tuesday’s proceedings have blown a huge hole in that argument. Oklahoma has granted Warner a 14-day stay, and the US Supreme Court may well be dragged into the argument.

But this doesn’t mean America is about to dispense with capital punishment. After all, if the Newtown slaughter of little schoolchildren in 2012 didn’t lead to tougher gun control, there’s no reason to suppose a few botched executions will end the death penalty – yet.

The trend however is pointing unequivocally in that direction. The number of US executions fell to 39 in 2013, down from a peak of 98 in 1999. Fewer death sentences are being handed down, death row populations are shrinking. Since 2007 six states have formally ended capital punishment, and a dozen more haven’t executed anyone in years. In 2013, only nine states put anyone to death.

Public support is at its lowest ebb in decades – just 55 per cent according to a 2013 Pew study – as the evidence piles up that the death penalty is applied unfairly, and that innocent people have been executed. Just this week came a new study, estimating that four per cent of capital sentences result from wrongful convictions. In other words 120 of the 3000 people on death row could be innocent.

Americans revere the law, but increasingly it’s clear the law isn’t infallible. The grisly debacle in Oklahoma has now challenged a second fundamental American assumption: that there’s no problem technology can’t solve, including that of a humane execution.

Just possibly, we’ve reached a turning point. “I shall no longer tinker with the machinery of death,” the Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun, once a supporter of capital punishment, famously declared in 1994. Yes, the machinery grinds on. But Oklahoma makes you wonder, for how much longer?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before