The whole world was watching

 M. Scott Carter, The Daily Record Newswire

Last week, the eyes of the world were focused on Oklahoma. The rest of the globe watched as two men, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, condemned to death for their crimes, were set to be executed just hours apart on Tuesday.

The case had wound its way through district court, up to the Court of Criminal Appeals and, finally, the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In a rare stretch, the high court voted 5-4 to stay the executions until issues raised by their attorneys — the types of drugs used in their execution and where those drugs came from — were resolved.

Just after that, all hell broke loose.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin countered by issuing a seven-day stay and asking the Court of Criminal Appeals for guidance. Shortly after that, state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, filed a resolution to impeach the five justices of the Supreme Court who attempted to resolve the issue.

By Tuesday, the world was watching as Oklahoma prepared itself for a double execution. At 6:23 p.m. Tuesday evening Clayton Lockett was strapped to a gurney in McAlester and set to die.

At that point, the execution went horribly wrong. Lockett grimaced, writhed in pain and struggled against his bonds, obviously conscious. The execution was halted, but within the hour he died of a heart attack.

Across the state and yes, the globe, people watched horrified at what happened here. Instead of a humane execution, Lockett’s execution was botched. Now, his death has become the focus of a state inquiry into the Department of Corrections execution protocols and procedures.

Instead of closure for the family and friends of Lockett’s victims, the bungled execution will continue to be an open wound on all sides.

Perhaps it’s time to take a deep breath and rethink what we’re doing.

For weeks, many state officials, including the state attorney general’s office, criticized and sought to vilify Lockett and Warner’s attorneys, claiming they sought to delay justice.

I disagree. The attorneys were doing what they were supposed to do: fight for their clients’ lives. Despite the distasteful nature of their job, the public defenders who fought for Lockett and Warner didn’t deserve the insults or the abuse.

Nor does the court system. While I disagree with the actions taken by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, I have no doubt about their sincerity or investment in the public good. The arguments made by Lockett and Warner were complex and spanned several areas of law. The court, which acted in good faith, made the call it thought was right.

The same can be said for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Instead of taking the Legislature’s approach to tough issues and kicking them down the road for a while, the high court willingly stepped into the fray and attempted to inject reason into a heated and ugly debate.

For that effort, the five justices who voted to stay the execution deserve better than impeachment threats.

The horrific problems surrounding the execution of Lockett are proof that Oklahoma’s antiquated system of capital punishment needs a thorough review. The arguments about transparency — whether they are made by a condemned inmate or a Supreme Court justice — need to be taken seriously.

For all their bluster about justice and doing the right thing, Oklahomans have now become the global example of just what is wrong with the system.

This week the eyes of the world were watching Oklahoma. What they saw was nothing anyone should be proud of.


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