‘Tortured To Death’

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Spare us the euphemisms. Call the so-called “botched execution” here Tuesday evening what it really was: A man was tortured in secrecy until he died from the result of that torture.

I use the word “secrecy” because we don’t know the drugs that were used to torture and then kill Charles Derrel Lockett, 38, who was sentenced to die by lethal injection. After the drugs were administered, Lockett writhed and groaned until officials halted the execution and closed the curtains on those viewing the gruesome spectacle through a window. By then it was too late.

Lockett, we were told, died 40 some minutes later of a heart attack.

Within minutes of his death, as word leaked out, Oklahoma made national and worldwide news in perhaps the worst way possible. The British Broadcasting Company covered it. It was one of the leading stories on the website of The New York Times. It will surely be covered by all three major national news networks this evening.

The term mimicked by all the media outlets was “botched execution,” but the underlying implication was that it was more than the usual red-state incompetence and right-wing weirdness. It told the story of an inhumane, “eye-for-an-eye” majority of people in a particular state, people who vote overwhelmingly for conservative politicians that not only support the death penalty but are also radical supporters of its real, ongoing practice. These same politicians also support laws that ensure the state will have a steady supply for the executioner and its prisons.

It is Oklahoma’s shame. But are Gov. Mary Fallin and her Republican-dominated government leaders even capable of feeling guilt over what happened? Probably not.

The right-wing here will surely crow that Lockett was a vicious murderer who in 1999 killed a 19-year-old woman. The woman was then buried alive. Where is the sympathy for that woman and her family? Who cares whether Lockett felt any pain or not? This will be the crux of the argument.

But that logic, as always, misses the point when it comes to the death penalty. We should strive to be a nation of laws but also a humane nation. Of course, Lockett’s crime was horrendous but by “botching” his execution through incompetence and in secrecy we’re merely responding to violence with more violence in a never-ending cycle. It’s time to end the death penalty, and Lockett’s torture and death is a perfect example why it should be ended once and for all.

The ingredients of the three-drug “cocktail”—another euphemism—used to kill Lockett remains unknown because officials don’t want to publicize the names of the companies who manufacture and sell the drugs. States are now finding it difficult to find drugs to use in executions because of growing opposition to the death penalty and companies unwilling to sell them for that purpose.

Fallin did issue a stay of execution for another inmate, Charles Warner, 46, who was scheduled to be killed right after Lockett, but that was only for 14 days. Fallin wants a review of what happened. Warner was convicted of raping and killing an 11-year-old girl in 1997. Warner’s attorney used the term “tortured to death” to describe Lockett’s execution Tuesday evening.

No one is arguing effectively that Lockett and Warner didn’t commit heinous acts, but does that mean the state should respond with its own heinous act? At the very least, we should know what drugs are being used in executions and how they work on the body. If anything in our culture should be transparent it certainly should be the process used by the government to kill its citizens.