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
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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.

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