Clayton Lockett execution: Public opinion must condemn such a botched, barbaric act



There is a protocol in the affairs of death. We are assisted in our understanding of the death protocol in Oklahoma last week by the meticulous notes kept by the Department of Corrections as it sought to execute "Offender Clayton D Lockett". Before dawn on that day, "Offender Lockett" had, of course, spent 15 years – from age 23 to 38 – anticipating a torturous demise.

Death penalty advocates tend to dismiss such suffering by focusing on what the condemned man is said to have done to his victim. We should, of course, never forget the victim; but neither should we accept the argument that a civilised society may illustrate the path to decency by emulating the ghastly act that it condemns.

According to the notes, the day began with "Offender Lockett" refusing to go voluntarily to his death. Because he was disobeying an order, "an electric shock device (Taser) was administered".

At 5.27pm, the notes say, a "phlebotomist enters execution chamber to determine appropriate placement for IV". For 49 minutes, he probed and prodded. Finally, finding "no viable point of entry", the doctor "then went to the groin area". At 6.23pm, Lockett declined to make a last statement – refusing to play his part in the next step of the Execution Protocol.

Warden Anita Trammel then began the execution and midazolam, a benzodiazepine, was administered intravenously. That was meant to knock Lockett out. Seven minutes later he was still conscious.

After three more minutes, he was supposedly unconscious, so "vecuronium bromide is administered intravenously". That is the paralytic agent. It is not for the benefit of Lockett; it is to prevent him from showing pain, so as to avoid upsetting the witnesses. Moments later, "potassium chloride is administered intravenously". The protocol says this "stops the heart". What it really does is poison the prisoner, and it is excruciatingly painful if the original sedative has not worked.

There is then a nine-minute break in the notes, before Warden Trammel ordered the "shades lowered". For that time we must rely on the observations of journalists, who report that Clayton Lockett writhed, cried out, and was clearly not unconscious.

For the next 12 minutes, the authorities try to salvage their execution. But eventually the governor allows them to stop. It is, of course, too late for "Offender Lockett" as he cannot be revived to face a proper execution sometime in the future. He eventually dies of a heart attack.

The prison's recitation concedes that the execution did not follow "proven standards" – in other words, it has been an experiment, a human experiment. Indeed, Oklahoma experimented on Lockett with its fourth execution protocol in two months.

End times: An official waits for word of the execution End times: An official waits for word of the execution Famously, it is the Nuremburg Code that forbids human experiments. The code, which rose out of the ashes of the Second World War, set 10 preconditions that must be met before any medical experiments may be carried out on human beings. The rules are simple and obvious – the subject must give consent, the experiment must be for the good of society, by objective scientists, and so forth. All 10 rules were violated by Oklahoma.

There will never been a Nuremburg trial for the people who butchered Clayton Lockett. We must hope that the Court of Public Opinion will convict them instead, and insist that this barbarism should never be repeated.

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve

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