President Obama says the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate this week shows that there are problems with how the death penalty is administered in the United States, adding he will ask the attorney general to undertake an analysis of the punishment.
Speaking to reporters Friday at a joint news conference in Washington with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama said Tuesday’s execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma was “deeply troubling.”
Oklahoma officials administered what should have been a lethal three-drug cocktail, but the procedure failed to kill Lockett, who groaned and convulsed during the procedure. SCROLL DOWN for the official timeline of the execution.
Lockett, a convicted murderer, died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began. Oklahoma officials are investigating how the execution went awry.
In his comments, Obama said he recognized there were times when the death penalty might be appropriate but noted there had been questions in how it was applied.
“The individual who was subject to the death penalty had committed heinous crimes, terrible crimes,” Obama said. “And I've said in the past that there are certain circumstances in which a crime is — is so terrible that the application of the death penalty may be appropriate — mass killings, the — the killings of children.”
In response to a question, the president described some of the problems.
“But I've also said that in the application of the death penalty in this country, we have seen significant problems — racial bias, uneven application of the death penalty, you know, situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to have been innocent because of exculpatory evidence. And all these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied. And this situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the significant problems there.”
Obama said he would discuss the issues with Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and others, seeking “to get me an analysis of what steps have been taken, not just in this particular instance, but more broadly in this area. I think we do have to, as a society, ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues.”
The Obama administration has sought the death penalty in some cases. Most recently, Holder announced that the government would seek the death penalty in the Boston Marathon bombing case if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is convicted in the 2013 attack that killed three and wounded more than 260.
Lockett was sentenced to death for killing 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman in 1999 during a home burglary. Neiman was shot then buried alive.
On Thursday, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections released a time line of events on Tuesday, Lockett’s last day.
In his letter to Gov. Mary Fallin, the corrections department's director, Robert Patton, revealed that Lockett had been defiant in his final hours. On the morning of his execution, he refused to submit to a routine X-ray until he was shot with an electric stun gun, and he was found to have apparently cut himself in his right arm. Lockett also refused to see his attorneys and refused to eat.
Lockett was restrained on the execution table at 5:22 p.m., but it took almost an hour for a phlebotomist to examine his body to find an appropriate vein for the experimental mixture of three drugs that officials planned to pump into his body.
A dose of midazolam at 6:23 p.m. took 10 minutes to put Lockett to sleep. Officials then injected him with vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, according to the letter. According to witnesses, Lockett woke up and began clenching his teeth and thrashing. Executioners blocked the witnesses’ view with curtains at 6:42 p.m.
According to Patton’s report, from 6:44 to 6:52, “The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into the tissue, leaked out, or both.” The doctor reported that there were not enough lethal drugs left to kill Lockett, who was by then unconscious again with a faint heartbeat.
At 6:56 p.m., Patton called off the execution. By 7:06 p.m., Lockett was dead of an apparent heart attack.
Patton in his report called for a revision of policies that put decision-making burdens on prison wardens rather than on senior prison officials. Patton also asked for an inquiry to be conducted by someone other than the department’s own investigators, saying, “I believe the report will be perceived as more credible if conducted by an external entity.”
Fallin, who had strongly supported the execution, on Wednesday ordered an independent investigation into Lockett’s death but named one of her own political appointees, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson, to lead the inquiry.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections timeline of Clatyon Lockett's execution