United StatesSaturday, May 3, 2014
Obama raises questions about death penalty
Executions in Oklahoma suspended after botch job, investigation under way
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama yesterday said the botched execution of a murderer in Oklahoma raises questions about the death penalty in the United States and he will ask the US attorney general to look into the situation.
“What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling,” he said.
The condemned man, Clayton Lockett, 38, who was convicted of murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery in a 1999 crime spree, died of an apparent heart attack minutes after the lethal injection protocol failed.
A prison report said the problem was largely due to a collapsed vein during the injection of the lethal drugs and that the needle was inserted in Lockett’s groin instead of his arm.
Oklahoma’s director of corrections called for a revision of the state’s execution methods and a suspension of executions until new procedures are in place.
Obama cited uneven application of the death penalty in the United States, including racial bias and cases in which murder convictions were later overturned, as grounds for further study of the issue.
“And this situation in Oklahoma just highlights some of the significant problems,” he said at a news conference.
“I’ll be discussing with (Attorney General) Eric Holder and others to get me an analysis of what steps have been taken — not just in this particular instance but more broadly — in this area,” he said.
“I think we do have to, as a society, ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues.”
Oklahoma has sent Lockett’s body to the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office for a complete post mortem examination, officials in the state said.
Oklahoma’s attorney general’s office says drugs previously readied for a second scheduled execution this week will be tested as part of the investigation.
Drugs intended for Charles Warner’s execution were never used after Lockett’s execution went awry. In a letter yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Kindanne Jones said the Department of Corrections saved the lethal drugs set aside for Warner’s execution, which was stayed for two weeks. Jones said attorneys for Lockett and Warner may have access to the drugs if any are left over after the state’s analysis is complete. Before Lockett’s execution, the state had refused to provide the source of the execution drugs, citing state law that allows such details to remain confidential.
The botched execution has renewed the debate of the death penalty in the United States and intensified criticism overseas. On Tuesday the United Nations human rights office in Geneva said Lockett’s execution may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international human rights law.
Lockett’s prolonged death was under scrutiny in Geneva, where a United Nations human rights office spokesman, Rupert Colville, said it was “the second case of apparent extreme suffering caused by malfunctioning lethal injections” reported in the United States this year, after Dennis McGuire’s execution in Ohio on January 16 with an allegedly untested combination of drugs. States have been scrambling to find new sources of drugs as several pharmaceutical companies, many based in Europe, have stopped selling to US prisons and corrections departments that conduct executions.
Oklahoma officials said Lockett’s autopsy report will take two to three months to complete.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Captain George Brown says Lockett’s autopsy report is expected to be finished in eight to 12 weeks.
Brown says the autopsy is being performed at Southwestern Institute for Forensic Science in Dallas.
The autopsy report is part of an investigation into the execution. A team from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol will perform the investigation.
A letter by written on Thursday by Oklahoma’s prisons director Robert Patton to the state’s governor detailing Lockett’s last day described how medical officials tried for nearly an hour to find a vein in Lockett’s arms, legs and neck before finally inserting an IV into his groin.
By the time a doctor lifted a sheet covering the inmate and noticed the line had become dislodged from the vein, all of the execution drugs had already been administered and there wasn’t another suitable vein, the report noted.
At that time, Patton halted the Tuesday night execution, but Lockett was pronounced dead of a heart attack 10 minutes later.
Oklahoma’s execution rules call for medical personnel to immediately give emergency aid if a stay is granted while the lethal drugs are being administered, but it’s not clear if that happened. The report does not say what occurred from when Patton called off the execution at 6:56pm to Lockett being pronounced dead at 7:06pm.
Herald with AP, Reuters