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SPOTLIGHT
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Death penalty

Published on -5/2/2014, 5:02 PM

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For a country that allows the death penalty, the United States is having a lot of trouble carrying out executions. Yet another botched state-sanctioned killing this week in Oklahoma raises any number of issues that need to be resolved.

Perhaps at the top of the list is the method of execution. Clayton Lockett was injected with an experimental cocktail of lethal drugs Tuesday night, almost 15 years after being sentenced to death for murder, rape, kidnapping, assault and battery, burglary and robbery. On his final night, one of his veins exploded, which didn't allow the drugs to act in the expected manner. He ended up dying from a heart attack more than a half hour later.

Lethal injection is the method of choice for states that allow the death penalty. Proponents suggest it is somehow ethically superior to other methods. A limited number of states allow electrocution, gas, hanging and firing squads, but only in certain circumstances. Lethal injection has been used in 1,203 of the 1,378 executions since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated in America.

But the drugs needed for lethal injections are hard to come by. The lone U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped making it in 2011. Turning to Europe proved short-lived as the European Union banned exports of pentobarbital and sodium thiopental later that year. Since then, states have been secretive as to where they're obtaining drugs for this purpose, or even what kind of drugs they are.

Such secrecy has prompted many calls to halt the use of lethal injections. If this method is indeed the most "humane" way to kill a criminal, then perhaps it is time to suspend the death penalty once again. The U.S. Supreme Court has alternately decided capital punishment is "cruel and unusual" and that it is not. Since we currently believe the death penalty passes constitutional muster, then at the very least clarifications are needed. And every drug utilized for injections needs to meet the necessary standard.

It is easy to argue Lockett wasn't concerned with cruel and unusual punishment the night of June 3, 1999. That evening, two weeks after she graduated high school, Stephanie Neiman was dropping a friend off at a house that was being robbed by Lockett and an accomplice. Before the night was over, Lockett kidnapped, raped and shot Neiman. He then watched as his accomplice buried her alive. That any concern is being raised about how his death sentence was carried out boggles the mind.

Still others are using Lockett's bungled execution as a rallying cry to abolish the death sentence once and for all.

For the record, we believe there are some acts simply too heinous to justify that person's continued existence. But we are extremely concerned with a judicial process that allows innocent people to be imprisoned or killed, with the continued racial bias that runs rampant through the system, and with having the government being allowed to conduct executions with anything secretive about the process.

If Clayton Lockett's death provides anything, it should be the opportunity for a national discussion of all these issues. If we keep in mind this is a civil society based on the rule of law, we should come to the correct conclusions.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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