You’d have to be living under a rock not to know about the botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett. Oklahoma, in its infinite wisdom, figured it would be just fine to give an experimental combination of drugs to its death row inmate.
It didn’t work out so well, as a vein apparently burst, he didn’t get the first drug that was supposed to knock him out, and he suffered mightily before having a heart attack and dying. Or at least that is what they are claiming.
But the part that really jumped off the pages of the stories was this: When it became evident that Lockett hadn’t been rendered unconscious by the first drug, and was in pain, prison officials lowered the shades between the witnesses and the condemned. They didn’t want anyone to see what The State was doing.
And anytime The State acts in secret, people should be alarmed. Especially when there is absolutely no reason for secrecy.
It is that very secrecy, in fact, that allows elected officials and their prison appointees to claim that the condemned don’t suffer when given various drug cocktails. Because if they suffered, then there would be an Eighth Amendment problem regarding cruel and unusual punishment.
The official timeline — or at least the first iteration of one, as none of the real witnesses in the execution chamber have actually testified — goes like this:
18:23 — The drug midazolam was administered intravenously.
18:30 — A doctor said Lockett was still conscious.
18:33 — Lockett was unconscious, and vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride were administered.
18:42 — The shades for the witnesses were lowered. The official timeline does not say why, but there are accounts elsewhere that Lockett had appeared to be conscious in the previous few minutes. From the New York Times: “Lockett, began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “oh, man,” according to witnesses.”
18:44 – 18:56 “The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both,” according to the timeline. The director of the corrections department then asked whether Lockett had been given enough of the drug combination to kill him, and the doctor said “no.” “Is another vein available? And if so, are there enough drugs remaining?” the doctor was asked, according to the timeline. The doctor’s answer to both questions: “No.”
18:56 Execution called off
19:06 Lockett pronounced dead.
Missing from the timeline? Any acknowledgment that Lockett was in pain, contrary to the claimed protocol.
I know, you are shocked, just shocked, that the official timeline whitewashed what the condemned man was doing or trying to say.
Secrecy. It has surrounded the death penalty since we stopped public hangings. It now consists primarily of trying to make an inherently violent act — killing — antiseptic, and therefore palatable to the public. A firing squad would be quicker and more efficient, but then the killing becomes more real.
But the veil of secrecy, I think, can now be broken. Dropping the shades in front of the witnesses won’t work this time, despite wiping it from the official timeline.
Because he suffered in a way that was unintended, as others have before him, the Estate of Clayton Lockett now has a simple claim for personal injury due to the negligence of prison officials, in addition to a civil rights claim for cruel and unusual punishment. This would be for the 24 minutes between 18:42 – 19:06.
Such a lawsuit, of course, really wouldn’t be about the money. It’s about lifting that veil of secrecy. Because of the suffering, the estate lawyers, if they brought such a suit, would be able to question each and every person in that execution room. And all of the people that ordered the drugs, devised the drug protocol, medically supervised the procedure and delve into all the ways it was tested (or that it wasn’t).
And so much more.
No, it really wouldn’t be about the money at all. It would be about ripping down the veil and using the disinfecting qualities of sunlight so that people can actually see how The State’s machinery of death works, to see what happened and why it happened.
And citizens can see exactly what they voted for and paid for.