The White House says the bungled execution of a convicted murderer in Oklahoma “fell short” of the standard for humane capital punishment but suggested President Obama supported the death sentence in this particular case.
“We have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday. “And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.”
Oklahoma executed Calvin Lockett on Tuesday night, but the lethal injection went awry. Witnesses say the 38-year-old man writhed on the table, clenched his teeth and tried to move his limbs shortly after prison officials administered the cocktail of deadly drugs.
Officials cut off viewing access to Lockett during the execution and later said he died of a heart attack after more than 40 minutes.
Lockett was convicted of killing 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman, a case in which he watched two accomplices bury her alive in 1999. Another prisoner, Charles Warner, was scheduled to be executed after Lockett on Tuesday but Warner’s execution was stayed after the problems.
State officials say they are investigating what went wrong. Prison officials initially said they believed Lockett’s vein collapsed, preventing the drugs from being injected properly. Prison officials administered a drug cocktail never before used in Oklahoma.
Death penalty opponents have seized on the case as evidence that states are violating the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Carney said he had not discussed the Oklahoma case with the president but added that Obama’s position on the death penalty had not changed. Obama has maintained that he does not believe death sentences deter criminals, but that capital punishment is appropriate in some cases – specifically terrorism, child rape and other “heinous” crimes.
“He has long said that while the evidence suggests that the death penalty does little to deter crime, he believes there are some crimes that are so heinous that the death penalty is merited. In this case, or these cases, the crimes are indisputably horrific and heinous,” Carney said.
The spokesman did not comment on whether the Justice Department planned to review the case.