After botched execution, OK archbishop denounces death penalty

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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The execution of Clayton Lockett did not go off without a hitch Tuesday night.

Instead of death by lethal injection, the Oklahoman inmate died of a heart attack, with the complication attributed to vein failure, the Associated Press reported. The state corrections department was using a new three-drug combination, and the botched execution led them to postpone the execution of Charles F. Warner, also scheduled for Tuesday night, for two weeks.  

An AP reporter described Lockett as “breathing heavily, writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow” on the gurney while being administered the second and third drugs of the protocol. The corrections department director halted the execution 20 minutes after the first drug, midazolam, was injected.

Lockett’s execution was the first time the corrections department used the new protocol, AP reported. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has called for a review of execution procedures.

In June 1999, Lockett shot teenager Stephanie Neiman twice and buried her alive after he and two accomplices had kidnapped her, a friend, and the resident and 9-month-old child of a home they intended to rob, according to the Tulsa World.

In a statement Wednesday, Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley offered prayers for the girl’s family, for Lockett, and for all involved.

He added the botched execution “highlights the brutality of the death penalty, and I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether.”

But Coakley stopped short of advocating himself an end to capital punishment, saying that as people “recover our understanding” that life is a gift from God, “we will begin to recognize that there are and ought to be very strict limits to the legitimate use of the death penalty.”

Oklahoma has executed a total of 110 people with lethal injection, and 19 people since 2010, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The center also said the state has had the highest number of executions per capita since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

That year, an Oklahoman coroner suggested a three-drug protocol -- sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride -- that would eventually become the standard for all death penalty states and used in more than 1,000 executions.

Recent decisions by pharmaceutical companies that produced sodium thiopental, propofol and pentobarbital (two early substitute drugs) to block their use in executions has forced states to seek alternative drugs. A common option has become compounding pharmacies, and some states have taken steps to conceal what drugs they use by including the pharmacies and others involved in the execution as part of the execution team.

In February, a federal judge placed a temporary restraining order on The Apothecary Shoppe, a compounding pharmacy in Tulsa, Okla., to prevent it from providing drugs for the execution of a Missouri inmate.

“How we treat criminals says a lot about us as a society,” the archbishop said.

“We certainly need to administer justice with due consideration for the victims of crime, but we must find a way of doing so that does not contribute to the culture of death, which threatens to completely erode our sense of the innate dignity of the human person and of the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,” Coakley said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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