The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 1, 2014

Botched execution gives life to the death penalty debate

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

So sayeth Exodus 21:23-25.

We reject this Old Testament tenet today in this New Testament age. Instead we adhere to the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Later in that chapter, Christ goes on to tell us to love our enemies and pray for them.

Loving and forgiving one’s enemies is far harder than lashing out, seeking revenge.

That said, I find it hard to get too worked up over the fact Clayton Lockett’s death in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester was not especially pleasant.

Locket is said to have “writhed in agony for 40 minutes,” after being given a lethal injection. In the end the deadly chemical cocktail didn’t end his life, but a heart attack did.

I pray for the soul of Clayton Lockett, and for his family, but can muster no sympathy for him or work up a shred of remorse for the fact he suffered before he died.

Granted, 40 minutes is a long time, but I wonder how long Stephanie Nieman suffered before she passed?

Nieman was the 19-year-old woman Lockett was convicted of shooting in 1999. Lockett then watched as his accomplices buried the young woman, who was still alive despite having been shot twice with a sawed-off shotgun.

It reportedly took one of Lockett’s cronies 20 minutes to dig the shallow grave in which Nieman was to be buried, all the time she stood by, watching. Then, when Lockett shot her the first time, his gun jammed, so he returned to his truck to fix it, with Nieman pleading for her life, “Oh God, please, please.”

There is no level of hell low enough, or hot enough, for Clayton Lockett. This was not self-defense, this was not a crime of passion, this was not the act of an insane person, this was not an act of war, this was straight-up, cold-blooded murder.

Lockett’s botched execution has renewed opposition to the death penalty, which currently is a legal option in 32 states.

This is despite the fact the U.S. Supreme Court has never declared a method of execution “cruel and unusual,” including firing squads and the electric chair.

Taking the life of another human being is nothing to be taken lightly, whether they deserve it or not.

Perhaps it is time for a nationwide review of the death penalty.

Legal experts say it is more expensive to put someone to death than it is to put them away for life. According to a study by the Kansas Judicial Council, it is four times as expensive to defend a death penalty case than one in which the death penalty is not in play.

Also, it is more costly to house inmates on death row than in the general population. Again quoting numbers from Kansas, it costs twice as much per year to keep someone on death row ($49,380) than in the general population ($24,690).

Some say we should reject the death penalty because we have come too far as a society, that we shouldn’t stoop to the level of murderers. Perhaps, but if we had come all that far, murder wouldn’t be the problem it is in the first place.

There is debate as to whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the murder rate in death penalty states was 4.89 per 100,000 population in 2011, as compared to 4.13 in non death penalty states.

The two men convicted in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City suffered different fates. Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001, while Terry Nichols remains in prison. We as a society are no better or worse off either way.

This country either needs to come to a consensus on the death penalty, and settle on a reliable, humane method, or scrap it altogether.

I have long advocated housing convicted murderers in cells whose walls are covered with photos of their victims, so that everywhere they turned, everywhere they looked, they would be looking into the eyes of the one whose life they stole.

Convicted murderers also should be denied access to any type of reading materials, television, music or radio.

That would leave them nothing to do all day but lie on their bunks and think about their crimes.

Charles Warner now awaits his fate. He was the other inmate scheduled to die the same day as Clayton Lockett. His execution has now been delayed for two weeks.

Charles Warner was convicted in the death of Adrianna Waller, the 11-month-old daughter of his girlfriend. Warner sexually molested Adrianna, fractured her skull, broke her jaw, broke three of her ribs, bruised her lungs and lacerated her liver and spleen, resulting in her death.

For heaven’s sake, let’s make sure Charles Warner is executed humanely, but quickly.

Hell is waiting.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.