On Tuesday, April 29, 2014 two convicted murderers were set to be given lethal injections for their crimes in Oklahoma. Clayton D. Lockett and Charles F. Warner were to be Oklahoma’s latest executions. As the clock drew down on Mr. Lockett he was supposed to be given his last meal, marched down to the execution chamber, strapped down, injected with a cocktail of lethal drugs and peacefully pass away….or so the authorities thought!
Normally, and in the recent past in the U.S., the practice of injecting a person with a fatal dose of drugs was pretty straight-forward and often provided a quick end to a troubled life. The inmate would first fall asleep as the first drug entered his circulatory system. As the second drug is administered, his respiratory system would slow to a halt. The last drug would stop the heart, rendering the person dead. In essence, this was a humane approach to deadly justice. That’s the way it is supposed to work, at least.
As the world and European countries have begun to shun the practice of capital punishment, these drugs have become increasingly harder to obtain and have led certain U.S. states to increasingly dramatic attempts to procure replacements. Now, many of these drugs originate from dubious and secretive origins. To make matters worse, many courts have ruled that the prisons do not have to divulge the new supplier of these drugs, as was the case in Oklahoma. Furthermore, the drugs that are now being used are still in the experimental phase. Thus, the inmate is essentially a capital punishment guinea pig. This climate of secrecy and mystery makes it impossible to know whether these executions will comport with the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
This brings us to the common argument of who cares if he experienced pain or agony. He still didn’t suffer as much as his victims. This common sentiment may be a form of justice to some people but it certainly is not law and order.
I think that it is possible to support the death penalty and still be morally disgusted by the idea of torturing a man to death, especially under circumstances where those in charge knew or should have known their conduct would violate the Eighth Amendment’s “Cruel and unusual Punishment” clause. If my beliefs are incorrect, then I ask those with such sentiments if, living in an uncivilized society is acceptable to them. Within the past 48 hours, the best statement I’ve come across on this issue is
“An eye-for-an-eye does not raise anyone up; it just brings us down to the level of the condemned.”
The parents of Clayton D. Lockett’s victim released a statement to the press just prior to the execution, “We are thankful this day has finally arrived and justice will finally be served.” I ask the question, “Has justice been served?” In Oklahoma’s haste to execute Lockett, this convicted murderer has been elevated to a level that he does not deserve and never would have achieved had Oklahoma respected the basic requirements of due process. Lockett’s name and photo have been all over the news. The horrible acts that he perpetrated have quickly been forgotten. He has become a victim of bureaucracy. Ten years from now, students in criminal justice courses may read about him in text books. Did Oklahoma provide these parents with any amount of closure to help them heal from this tragedy? It appears more as if the state betrayed these poor people.
This is not a pro or anti death penalty debate. Quite frankly, I am tired of arguing that issue. I think that the most important lesson for us to learn is that regardless of how we feel about capital punishment, due process and the Eight Amendment serve to protect us all: the victims, the convicted and society in general. If we are going to have a Death Penalty- we must do it right. Until this process becomes transparent, we are only hurting ourselves.