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White House: Oklahoma Execution Fell Short of Humane Standards White House: Oklahoma Execution Fell Short of Humane Standards

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Policy

White House: Oklahoma Execution Fell Short of Humane Standards

But it remains to be seen if the Justice Department will investigate.

photo of Dustin Volz
April 30, 2014

The Obama administration has weighed in on the botched execution that Oklahoma carried out Tuesday night, saying it failed to meet the humane standards expected for death-row convicts.

"We have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely," press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. "And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard."

Carney said he has not specifically discussed with President Obama the execution, which went awry after the inmate was injected with a new and untested lethal cocktail. Carney also said he was unsure whether the Justice Department was planning to launch a federal inquiry into the matter.

 

"What I can tell you is that [Obama] has long said that while the evidence suggests that the death penalty does little to deter crime, he believes there are some crimes that are so heinous that the death penalty is merited," Carney said.

The prisoner in question, Clayton Lockett, was declared unconscious 10 minutes after being injected with the first dose of a three-drug cocktail, according to witness reports. But minutes later, he seemingly awoke and began breathing heavily, and, still strapped to the gurney, began to writhe and mutter.

In response, Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials—who now dispute that Lockett ever regained consciousness—lowered the death chamber's blinds to prevent people from seeing the rest. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after being administered a new and untested drug combination.

Shortly after Carney's comments on Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, ordered an independent review of the state's execution protocols. The review, led by state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson, will attempt to determine the cause of Lockett's death, as well as whether corrections officials followed correct protocols. It will also attempt to develop recommendations for improving future execution procedures.

But some death-penalty opponents are calling for Oklahoma to suspend all executions for the rest of the year to avoid another botched job. Fallin has issued a 14-day stay on the execution of Charles Warner, who was also scheduled to be put to death Tuesday night, in the same room as Lockett just two hours later. But she made made clear that his execution would not go forward if the independent review is not completed by May 13.

"If there are adjustments that need to be made to the state's execution protocols, those adjustments will be made," Fallin said in a statement.

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