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What they're saying about Oklahoma's botched execution

by Matt Carney Published: April 30, 2014

Executions are carried out at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman Archives
Executions are carried out at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman Archives

While only 12 reporters witnessed Oklahoma’s botched execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett Tuesday evening, news outlets picked up the story quickly and before the night was over some version of the evening’s events in McAlester was plastered everywhere from the Huffington Post to the Washington Post. Opinion pieces tumbled out like dominoes shortly after. Let’s see what the pundits and analysts have to say about the failed execution, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, the lethal injection and even the whole idea of capital punishment.

John Sutter at CNN, who’s originally from Oklahoma, seems unconvinced that Tuesday’s execution, which employed a new combination of lethal drugs, will dissuade the state from ever moving away from the death penalty:

Perhaps some supporters of the death penalty find comfort in the fact that death by lethal injection is supposed to be painless — more sterile than a firing squad, more clinical than the electric chair. For those people, perhaps, Oklahoma’s botched execution will be a wake-up call — a realization that all executions, regardless of method, are cruel and not especially unusual in parts of the United States.

But in Oklahoma — where both the firing squad and the chair are still statutory alternatives to the needle, if other methods were to be deemed unconstitutional by the courts — method and morality don’t seem to matter much.

Our own Graham Brewer spoke with the folks at Poynter —a media ethics blog and resource for journalists— about the need for transparency when the death penalty gets carried out. He points out that none of the reporters in attendance for Lockett’s execution actually witnessed Lockett die firsthand, as the curtain was drawn at 6:39 p.m., after it became clear that something had gone awry:

“It’s just problematic to me mainly that you really have to fight for transparency,” Brewer said. “Obviously it was perfectly legal for them to close the curtain and not let us see Lockett’s final moments, but in my mind, that kind of defeats the whole purpose of us being there.”

“As far as the media is concerned, we may never really know what happened in that room after the curtain closed.”

Esquire politics blogger Charlie Pierce took the incendiary route, condemning state leadership for what he suggested was a violation of the “cruel and unusual” punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

The state of Oklahoma committed an act of f***ing barbarism last night. It did so under the color of law, which makes every citizen of that benighted state complicit in the act of f***ing barbarism.

Not far behind Pierce was Andrew Cohen writing for The Week, who wrote that judicial independence in Oklahoma was “killed by shortsighted members of the executive and legislative branches of government, and by gutless judges,” before Lockett’s execution even started. His work mostly concerns the conflict between the Oklahoma Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, which NewsOK’s Nolan Clay detailed about a week before. From Cohen:

Before the sun had set Monday, just hours after the Oklahoma Supreme Court halted the executions, the Republican governor of the state, Mary Fallin, proclaimed that the executive branch would not honor the judicial stay preventing the executions. The Supreme Court’s “attempted stay of execution is outside the constitutional authority of that body,” she declared, so “I cannot give effect to the order by that honorable court.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked Wednesday afternoon if the president had been briefed on the botched execution. Carney said he hadn’t discussed Lockett’s case with the president but that the president maintains that the United States has a fundamental standard “… that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely. And I think that everyone would recognize this case fell short of that standard.” Carney also said that he was not aware of any planned federal inquiry into the execution. You can watch that press conference below:

And lastly, a few people with the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty visited the Governor’s Mansion and state Capitol Tuesday before Clayton Lockett got pumped with drugs. Their message was simple:

Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman
Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman

Matt Carney is an editor for He operates a Twitter account.

by Matt Carney
Online Editor
Matt Carney is the night editor of and a 2011 graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was born in Tulsa, lives in Oklahoma City and misses QuikTrip every day.
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