As 2 Oklahoma men await execution, here's what a prison warden thinks [Updated]

As 2 Oklahoma men await execution, here's what a prison warden thinks [Updated]
Clayton Lockett, left, and Charles Warner. (Associated Press)

In a matter of hours, and barring an unforeseeable last-minute legal change, the state of Oklahoma will execute two men for unrelated murders. What links the two condemned men has been their fight to know the full details — including the source — of the drugs Oklahoma officials will use to kill them.

I've posted about the case, and the underlying arguments, before, and the Times' editorial page has taken a firm stand that the condemned have the right to that information. Without it, they cannot determine whether the killing drugs may violate their constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Oklahoma courts, after a bizarre bit of legal and political theatrics, disagreed, so Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner will die right about the time those on the West Coast are eating dinner.


[Updated 5:56 p.m. PDT Tuesday, April 29: According to breaking news reports out of Oklahoma, the first of the two scheduled executions was botched, and the second postponed. Clayton Lockett's execution began about 6 p.m. local time, but the executioners had trouble with his veins, according to the initial reports. After 40 minutes he was still alive, and reportedly said, "something's wrong." He died of a heart attack about 25 minutes later. The second planned execution, of Charles Warner, was then postponed.]

Which makes me wonder what the executioners involved in the process feel. The Guardian provides a partial answer in a riveting interview with Randy Workman, the former warden at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Before retiring, Workman took part in 32 executions, and while he supports the death penalty — imagine the conscience pain if he didn’t? — he has come to question it as a way of giving a sense of justice and closure to the families of the murder victims.

"The only thing I can tell you for certain whenever people say do you believe that the death penalty will stop crime, I can guarantee you that person will never commit a crime again, and that is as far as I'm going to say," Workman said. "Do we need to have the death penalty? Yeah I'm an advocate for it. I think we do. Is it cost-effective? Gosh no. We spend millions of dollars on these cases and going through the process and the end result is the family, do they feel vindicated? I'd say 90% of the time the people I've seen don't....

"I can tell you the people that I've executed, when they committed crimes, they didn't, wasn't thinking about the death penalty, and a lot of them were high, or a lot of them in the generation of people we're dealing with today don't have a lot of forethought about the end result," he said.

Workman's cousin was murdered in 2000. The prosecutor approached his mother, and she then sought Workman's advice about whether to seek the death penalty.

"I said here's the deal, if you get the death penalty and you're successful, you are going to spend the next eight to 12 years back and forth in court and you're going to relive your son's death, because he has all these appeals," Workman said. He advised her that after the lethal injection, she would likely feel that her son's killer died too easily.

"I've seen some mothers that had some serious broken hearts that said this doesn't end it for me," he said. "This isn't justice to me. This doesn't do it."

It's refreshing, and revealing, to read how someone so intimately involved in the process of state executions views them. Oh, and while he has been involved in the executions, Workman told the Guardian, he has never pushed the plunger himself — for fear of killing an innocent man. "A guilty person, it wouldn't be as much of an issue to me," Workman said. "But on the offhand chance that somebody wasn't, I would never take that chance with my life."

A telling distinction, that.


Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle