When executions go wrong

There’s no nice way to describe what happened in Oklahoma last evening, where for weeks people have been trying to tell a state that attempting to execute two men using experimental drugs was a bad idea.

No doubt, some people will say, “good, let ’em suffer,” but public policy shouldn’t be dictated by people without a functioning soul.

Here, let the Daily Oklahoman tell the story:

The execution, which was supposed to start at 6, began at 6:23 p.m. The three-drug cocktail was then administered to Lockett, who had no last words. Lockett was declared unconscious 10 minutes into the process but he mumbled at three separate moments. The first two were inaudible, however the third time he said the word “man.”

Sixteen minutes into the procedure, Lockett grimaced and tensed his body several times over a three-minute period, his head rising from the gurney and his feet kicking several times. A medical professional lifted the sheet covering Lockett’s body to check the vein in his right arm just before officials closed the curtains in the execution chamber and shielded witnesses from what was happening.

He was declared dead at 7:06 p.m. His death was not witnessed by the media.

Patton later announced Lockett had suffered a “blown vein” and had died of a heart attack. He said all three execution drugs had been administered, but “the drugs were not having the effect.”

It’s even worse when you watch a Tulsa World reporter describe what happened.

“In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world,” Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said.

While there remains an active debate over the death penalty, the Washington Post notes, fewer medical people and pharmaceutical companies want to be involved in the killing:

Licensed physicians are now unwilling to have anything to do with them on ethical grounds. Pharmaceutical companies that market the most tested drugs have cut off supplies, forcing states to obtain compounds they refuse to describe from suppliers they refuse to identify.

These controversies have begun a whole new phase in the decades-long struggle over capital punishment. For years, opponents of the death penalty fought about its fundamental fairness under the Constitution. When they lost that fight, they attacked the capacity of the criminal justice system to actually mete out the death penalty reliably and without racial bias. They lost that fight, too, in the 1980s.

But Oklahoma went ahead anyway even though a state Supreme Court had called for a stay of execution over concerns about the untested drugs and their origin. People called for impeachment of the justices, who then rescinded their order.

It’s unlikely there’ll be political fallout for Oklahoma officials who charged ahead with the execution. Two-thirds of Americans still support the death penalty.

Presumably, none of them ever had to watch one.