Oklahoma execution failure

I’m not in favor of the death penalty. Too many people have been proven not guilty after organizations like The Innocence Project have managed to get DNA test results into appeals processes. Better the guilty stay alive than one innocent man or woman be killed by the state.

Events last night in Oklahoma just reinforced my opinion. Here’s the NYT story of this horrific event. Boiled down to its essence, Oklahoma tried a new cocktail of drugs to execute a man and it went terribly wrong. The first drug didn’t put the man to sleep as the doctor and executioners thought he was, and the second two drugs caused him to begin writhing and moving around. The team stopped administering the drug and he died 40 minutes later of a heart attack.

In keeping with the untried drug protocol announced by the Corrections Department this month, Mr. Lockett was first injected with midazolam, a benzodiazepine intended to render the prisoner unconscious. This was to be followed by injections of vecuronium bromide, a paralyzing agent that stops breathing, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

This combination has been used in Florida, but with a much higher dose of midazolam than Oklahoma used.

What this has done is shine a light on the inability of states to get the drugs used to execute inmates as they used to. Several of the drug manufacturers are rightly concerned that should their names be bandied about as the makers of “death penalty drugs” the PR hit would be immense, so they’ve stopped selling to US states. This has led to states looking for alternatives.

. . . many states scramble to find new sources and try untested combinations. Several states have imposed secrecy on the suppliers of lethal injection drugs, leading to court battles over due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

I’m really outraged by the behavior of Oklahoma’s governor and legislature. Apparently the state has two high courts: the Court of Criminal Appeals handles all criminal cases, and the Supreme Court handles civil ones. But. “If there is a conflict in determining which court has jurisdiction, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is granted the power to determine which court has jurisdiction, with no appeal from the court’s determination.” This is where the elected officials overstepped their bounds, in my opinion:

In March, it appeared that Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner had won the right to know more about the drugs when an Oklahoma judge ruled that the secrecy law was unconstitutional. But the judge said she did not have the authority to grant the men stays of execution, sending the inmates into a Kafkaesque legal maze.

The state’s Court of Criminal Appeals repeatedly turned back the Supreme Court’s order to rule on a stay, while the attorney general insisted that the executions would go ahead.

On April 21, the Supreme Court said that to avoid a miscarriage of justice, it would delay the executions until it had time to resolve the secrecy matter.

The next day, Ms. Fallin, a Republican, said the Supreme Court had overstepped its powers, and she directed officials to carry out both executions on April 29. An outraged legislator, Representative Mike Christian, said he would seek to impeach the justices, who were already under fire from conservative legislators for striking down laws the court deemed unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court caved in and handed down a decision saying the lower court judge was wrong about the secrecy law and the executions could proceed.

I find that political interference with the Judiciary outrageous. You see that in countries like Pakistan and India and Egypt. I never expected to see it in the United States. But then, I’ve never seen Republicans like the ones we have in the United States these days either.

Charlie Pierce has a lot more about this, and his level of outrage is pegged at eleven.

One Comment

  1. I may blog about this myself. Seems to me that our only real alternative – instantaneous and painless, as it was invented to be – is the guillotine. But it takes up a lot of space and then you have to clean up the blood; we can’t have that. The fact that they can’t buy the goddamn drugs any more should tell them something, but they aren’t listening.

Comments are closed.