White House: Oklahoma Execution Fell Short of Humane Standards

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

National Journal
Dustin Volz
See more stories about...
Dustin Volz
April 30, 2014, 10:02 a.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
23 hours ago

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
19 hours ago

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
14 hours ago

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 hours ago

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.