Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Another icky death penalty case...

Last night, I read about former Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, who was put to death yesterday for his part in the murder of 19 year old Stephanie Neiman.  In 1999, Lockett shot Neiman with a sawed off shotgun and watched two accomplices bury her alive after Neiman and a friend arrived at a home the men were in the process of robbing.  To be sure, the crime Lockett committed was horrible and he deserved to be punished.  And punished he was yesterday, when the State of Oklahoma put him to death.

Lockett's execution did not go as planned.  Ten minutes after the lethal injection was administered, Lockett fell unconscious.  Then, he apparently blew a vein and the execution went awry.  He ultimately died of a heart attack after the execution.  Apparently, the scene of the execution was gruesome and the blinds had to be lowered so the witnesses wouldn't see Lockett straining to raise his head, clenching his teeth, and writhing.

I hate reading the comments on stories like this one.  People are justifiably outraged by what Mr. Lockett did to Stephanie Neiman.  But there is something very bloodthirsty and sick about the way some people celebrate executions.  I don't necessarily have a lot of sympathy for Lockett.  He probably deserved to die.  However, I have a problem with state sanctioned homicides.  I just find the idea of executions sick and barbaric.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, four percent of people sent to death row are innocent.  Maybe that doesn't sound like a huge number of people to you… and it's not, unless you or a loved one happen to be among the four percent of innocent people who land on death row.  Sometimes the innocent people are exonerated and eventually released from prison, but not all of them are.  Sometimes their sentences are reduced to life in prison or they do, in fact, end up executed.

I can see executions in a case when a person is so dangerous that taking them out of the world would be a service to the public.  But so many criminals sit on death row for many years.  Lockett got fifteen years… and in those years, he cost the people of Oklahoma a lot of money in court and the extra security needed to keep him on death row.  Then, when he finally was executed, it went wrong and some people now see him in a sympathetic light.  I think executions give criminals a platform and infamy that they don't deserve.

Anyway, I can't say I am completely opposed to the death penalty.  I think it's appropriate when a person truly is a danger to other people and there's no question of his or her guilt.  For instance, I think it was probably appropriate the John Allen Muhammed, aka The Beltway Sniper, was executed.  I think it was appropriate that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed.  Perhaps it was appropriate that Clayton Lockett was executed, too.  But I really think that the states where the death penalty applies ought to get their shit together.

The death penalty needs to be a very rarely imposed sentence that is only done in extreme cases.  They should be done for the sake of public safety only.  Executions should not be turned into a spectacle for the public's entertainment.  They should be carried out with no fanfare or press, quickly, and only when there is absolutely no question of the person's guilt.          

And really, I think until we have the system perfected and no innocent person stands a chance of being put to death, we probably ought to be like the rest of the civilized countries in the world and do away with executions altogether.

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