What was supposed to be the first of two executions here on Tuesday night was halted when the prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out "oh, man," according to witnesses. The administering doctor intervened and discovered that "the line had blown," said the director of corrections, Robert Patton, meaning that drugs were no longer flowing into Mr. Lockett's vein.
The state of Oklahoma intended to kill two of its citizens last night, relying on a new, lethal drug combination with contents state officials did not want to disclose, from a drug manufacturer the state did not want to identify. Following up on the segment from last night's show, the result was "chaotic and disastrous."
As it became clear that the process had gone horribly awry, a prison official at the execution stated the obvious: "Something's wrong."
Indeed, it was. Lockett did, in fact, eventually die last night, but of a heart attack. Oklahoma had intended to also execute Charles Warner last night, but given the gut-wrenching circumstances, the state agreed to a 14-day stay. Lockett's attorney told reporters the execution was "botched" and was "difficult to watch."
Warner's attorney equated it with watching someone get tortured.
There are scholars who can speak to the legal definition of "cruel and unusual" with far greater authority than I can, but I'd like to think what transpired in Oklahoma last night fits the bill.
Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced after the ordeal, "I have asked the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening's execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett."
While that review is underway, one hopes the governor's role in the process gets a second look. It was just last week that the state Supreme Court was prepared to delay these executions because of the secrecy with which it was to be administered, prompting the governor to announce she was prepared to ignore the court ruling. The justices soon after backed down, avoiding a constitutional crisis.
The governor now wants a review of the state policy, though it's hard not to wonder why Fallin wasn't prepared to do her due diligence before last night's tragic fiasco.
On a variety of fronts, Oklahoma has failed to put its best foot forward lately, but there's a qualitative difference between misguided legislation and using a suspect chemical cocktail to try -- and fail -- to humanely kill a human being.
What transpired in Oklahoma last night was more than shocking. It was, by most measures, a scandalous turn of events.
Regardless of the politics or one's personal opinions about capital punishment, basic decency demands that last night's developments not be repeated.