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Why Are We Still Debating Capital Punishment?

What the hell is wrong with us? We're monsters.

By the time the blinds were raised at 6:23pm on April 29, 2014, to show Clayton Lockett strapped to the gurney and positioned to die, there was a lot that witnesses in Oklahoma's death house had not seen.

They did not see how, for nearly an hour, a paramedic and physician tried and failed to insert an IV line into various parts of Lockett's body, including his neck and feet.

They did not see how, after he was punctured some 14 to 16 times, Lockett's pants and underwear were cut off so that the doctor could clumsily inject the IV into his femoral vein, near his groin, using a needle too small for the task. Nor did witnesses see the IV, which the warden chose to cover with a blanket to protect his genitals from view, but also in the name of "dignity."

They did not see the makeshift rope that had been found earlier that day inside Lockett's holding cell, or the lacerations on Lockett's arms where he had slashed himself with a razor. Or the prison task force that came for Lockett early that morning, forcing their way into his blood-stained cell after he tried to block the door and subduing him with a TASER.

That's right. It would be wrong for a prisoner to kill themselves and take that privilege away from the State.

But what witnesses would see once Lockett was finally displayed before them was a human experiment -- the first execution in the state using 100 milligrams of a new drug, midazolam, to kick off its three-part cocktail. It would go terribly wrong. As the drugs started flowing, and after he had already been deemed unconscious, Lockett jerked his head, and began to writhe and moan. "Oh my God," Warden Anita Trammel later recalled thinking. "He's coming out of this. It's not working." In the overflow room where others watched on a TV monitor, "It was like a horror movie," one official told The Guardian. "He kept trying to talk." Witnesses heard Lockett say things like, "something is wrong," and "the drugs aren't working" and "this shit is fucking with my mind." After nine minutes, the blinds were hastily closed. The blanket was lifted to reveal that the drugs were seeping into the tissue of his inner thigh instead of his veins, causing his skin to swell.

Officials debated whether they should keep trying to kill Lockett or else try to save his life. They called the governor's office. They decided to halt the proceeding. But then, just after 7 o'clock, Clayton Lockett finally died.

On his death certificate: "Judicially Ordered Execution."

And i feel so much better that this is the Supreme Court deciding the case.

That the Court again found itself discussing lethal injection at all seemed to irritate the judges. Justice Samuel Alito blamed "a guerrilla war against the death penalty." Activists have made it "impossible for the States to obtain drugs that could be used to carry out capital punishment with little, if any, pain," he complained. "And so the States are reduced to using drugs like this one." Justice Scalia, too, inveighed against abolitionists for making it "impossible to get the 100 percent sure drugs," referring to sodium thiopental and pentobarbital. "I guess I would be more inclined to find that [midolazam] was intolerable if there was even some doubt about this drug when there was a perfectly safe other drug available," he said. In other words, the lack of good alternatives might just make midolazom good enough in his book.

Damn those "activist" drug companies and their anti-barbaric execution stance.

Wyrick tried to explain away the holes in his case by reiterating that it is up to the prisoners, not the state, to prove the only "constitutionally relevant" question: whether midazolam has "a ceiling effect that kicks in before we get to a level where [prisoners are] unconscious and unaware of the pain." No one seems to know exactly where that ceiling lies. So while the state concedes that there is a possibility that midazolam will wear off mid-execution, it argues that this does not mean it definitely will. This level of uncertainty over midazolam is apparently not too high for Oklahoma to stop killing people with it.

Justice Elena Kagan found the logic galling. If it's true that experiencing the effects of potassium chloride is "like being burned alive," she said, then this is like telling someone, "We're going to burn you at the stake, but before we do, we're going to use an anesthetic of completely unknown properties and unknown effects. Maybe you won't feel it, maybe you will. We just can't tell."


Human life is only precious if it's still in the womb. Once you're out, you can go fuck yourself.

By min | May 1, 2015, 9:42 AM | Liberal Outrage


I completely agree and find this whole thing completely horrifying, but just a small point about the "activist drug companies": there were lots of drugs that worked just fine for a very long time (to the best of our knowledge) but then the drug companies decided that they didn't want their drugs associated with murder and so they threatened to take these drugs away from hospitals unless the states stopped using them.

So IMHO the Supreme Court has the right to complain about the drug companies, and in a way, they have a right to complain about activists for going after the drugs instead of trying to have the state laws abolished. The states aren't going to abolish the death penalties because the drugs don't work: they'll just resort to trying bad drugs and hangings and firing squads.

I'm sorry, but I can't get worked up about this. If someone is going to be executed, I don't see why it matters if they suffer first. Admittedly, I'm pro-death penalty in theory, and oppose it only because of its finality if you get the wrong person.