Oklahoma’s Little Shop of Horrors

By Bernard Healy-Garcia Source: Wikimedia

On April 29, 2014, Clayton Lockett laid on the execution table. Although he did not have any official last words, he uttered in the middle of his execution “something's wrong.” At 6:00 p.m., his execution started and 43 minutes later, he was pronounced dead. His cause of death was a “massive heart attack.” Lockett was a victim of the Oklahoma State penitentiary system’s use of a different drug administered to convicts facing the death penalty. After this incident, 3 other inmates who were facing lethal injection lobbied the Supreme Court to review the new method of lethal injection, citing the new cocktail as “cruel and unusual punishment.” On January 28, 2015, the Supreme Court ordered a stay, or a suspension, of the execution of these three individuals until further review of the protocol for lethal injection.

For some background information on death by lethal injection: there are three chemicals drugs that are administered for the execution. The first is an anesthetic to make the inmate unconscious. The second is a paralytic drug that makes the patient not react to the chemicals. And the third is a chemical, which causes cardiac arrest to the inmate. The drug that was changed for this execution was the anesthetic. For many years the anesthetic administered was Pentaorbital, produced by the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck. But once the sole manufacturer of the drug in the U.S. stopped production, state penitentiaries started to acquire the drugs in Europe. Lundbeck, took a stand and did not sell the drug to state penitentiaries for the use of executions. States started looking for alternatives, either by going through third party companies such as Dream Pharma. Other state penitentiary systems have contacted compounding pharmacies, pharmacies which create a cocktail of different drugs to create a specific effect of the drug that is desired. In the end, the penitentiary systems settled on another drug called Midozolam, created by the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-La Roche. Hoffman-La Roche created this drug to replace liquid Valium. But Midozolam has had a history of problems dating back to more than 20 years ago. According to a New York Times article of 1991, Hoffman- La Roche ignored reports from one of its U.S. plants stating that Midozolam could have serious side effects, if used inappropriately, which led to the deaths of 40 people by 1991. With this information available to the general public for years now, why did the state decide to use a drug that if used improperly, could cause severe death?

As it was witnessed in the execution of Clayton Lockett, complications did occur. When inserting the needle in his veins, instead of puncturing the vein, the needle burst the vein, and once the anesthetic was injected, the drug went straight to his muscle, instead of his blood stream, which caused him serious pain instead of a state of unconsciousness. Do the ends justify the means? In this case, they do not. The state tried to project its power, but failed to do so, by using a drug that cause “cruel and unusual” punishment. Oklahoma has failed to bring justice and has instead branded itself as not credible. If a state is to have a death penalty, it should be humanely conducted. If not, the state projects an image of itself no different than the murderer it is executing. It reveals itself to be no better than Clayton Lockett, who abducted and murdered an innocent 19-year old. If the state is incompetent of humanely ending a man’s life, it should eliminate the death penalty. Oklahoma has lost its credibility and should outlaw the death penalty for failing to adhere to the values and ethics they claim to uphold.

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