Nothing is more likely to make you question the morality of the death penalty than an execution gone horribly wrong. Yesterday, Oklahoma officials attempted to intervene after the lethal drug cocktail administered to death row inmate Clayton Lockett not only failed to kill him, it made him writhe and gasp after he'd been declared unconscious.
- The episode was disturbing enough that Oklahoma's governor, Mary Fallin, delayed a second execution that was supposed to happen later in the day, calling for a "full review" of the state's execution procedures.
- A reporter who was on the scene in Oklahoma was so horrified by what she saw that she decided to tweet details from the execution. "Live tweeting an execution seems unnecessary and kind of sick to me," she wrote. "After what happened, I felt like it was important for people to know."
- Officials are now claiming that the problem wasn't with the drugs themselves, but the way they were administered. But other grisly episodes in which prisoners being executed with lethal injections appeared to suffer are raising new questions about how much pain these prisoners experience.
- A shortage of the drugs used in lethal cocktails is making matters worse. The first four executions this year used four different drug combinations.
- But the botched execution in the United States has a long and inglorious history. In a highly prescient op-ed for this past Sunday's Boston Globe, Amherst professor Austin Sarat wrote that by his measure, "executions by lethal injection are botched at a higher rate than any of the other methods employed since the late 19th century, 7 percent."
- Sarat has been warning about the dangers of lethal injection--and other technologies used in the death penalty--for years. In 2006, he wrote about one of the most famous botched executions in U.S. history, when the state of Florida electrocuted a convicted murderer twice.
- The United States is the only remaining Western nation with a death penalty, and support is falling past. Last year, Gallup found that support for the death penalty was the lowest it had been in forty years--although of course, it was still clocking in at a robust 60 percent.