Commentary: A Botched Execution That Revealed the Horror of the Death Penalty

The horrific death of Clayton Lockett at a penitentiary in Oklahoma showed the world precisely how inhumane capital punishment truly is.

Posted: 05/01/2014 05:23 PM EDT

There has always been something deeply disturbing and disquieting about the death penalty. More than anything, it is the patently inhumane aspect of the practice. Somehow, state-sanctioned killing seems to be a stunning and chilling form of barbarism.

The recent botched execution in Oklahoma of Clayton Lockett has brought the horror of capital punishment into sharp and clear focus not only in that state but throughout the world. The lethal injection administered to Lockett went horribly wrong, turning it into a deadly torture session operated at the hands of the government.

The fact of the matter is that there is no truly conclusive evidence that the presence of the death penalty deters capital crimes in any way. On the other hand, there is evidence of a highly conclusive nature that it has often been administered to people who in fact were innocent of the crime for which they'd been convicted.

The death penalty has been inflicted on a disproportionate number of African-American and Latino citizens, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

With all that being said, the recent Oklahoma snafu is particularly disturbing. After the drugs had been administered to him, Lockett’s leg started gyrating and twitching.

That followed the inmate starting to moan and convulse in agony as a group of people watched the horrific scene in the Oklahoma death chamber. Nearly 45 minutes later, he died of a heart attack. It was clear to all those who witnessed this repulsing scene that the cocktail of lethal drugs – the state is not revealing their precise contents – had failed to perform as the executioners had expected.

There had been calls by the state’s judges upon Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallon, to abandon the execution precisely because it was unclear what the drug cocktail consisted of. The governor declined to stop the execution. However, she changed her tune after the botched execution drew international criticism and made her state a symbol of the cruelty of capital punishment. Since then, she has delayed a second scheduled execution pending an investigation.

All of this should lead to an immediate moratorium on executions in Oklahoma and, for that matter, elsewhere. Even those conservatives who use the bible as their rationale to champion this horrendous miscarriage of justice would do well to note that “Thou shall not kill” comes without caveats.

In fact, Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma office of the American Civil Liberties Union, made the point with striking clarity:

“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.”

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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