The US president, Barack Obama, has said the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate was “deeply troubling” and announced that he will ask the attorney general, Eric Holder, to analyse problems with the implementation of the death penalty.
In his first comments on the case of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett, the president expressed conflicting feelings about the death penalty. He said Americans needed to “ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues”.
Obama said the death penalty was warranted in some cases, specifically mentioning mass murder and child murder, and said Lockett’s crimes were “heinous”.
However, he said the death penalty’s application in the US was problematic, with evidence of racial bias and the eventual exoneration of some death-row inmates.
“All these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied,” said Obama, who was asked about the case at a news conference at the House House with the visiting German chancellor, Angela Merkel, “and this situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the significant problems there.”
Last Tuesday, the state of Oklahoma attempted to carry out Lockett’s death sentence by lethal injection, using a drug combination that had not been previously used in the state.
Lockett convulsed violently during the execution and tried to lift his head after a doctor declared him unconscious. He died of an apparent heart attack, 43 minutes after the execution had begun.
“What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling,” Obama said when asked about international condemnation of US application of the death penalty following Lockett’s case. He said he would be asking Holder and others “to get me an analysis of what steps have been taken, not just in this particular instance, but more broadly in this area”.
The White House declined to comment further on what the analysis might cover. The Justice Department indicated that its review would focus more on how executions are carried out, rather than the issues of race and wrongful convictions that Obama said also should be discussed.
“The department is currently conducting a review of the federal protocol used by the Bureau of Prisons, and has a moratorium in place on federal executions in the meantime. At the president’s direction, the department will expand this review to include a survey of state-level protocols and related policy issues,” the department said in a statement on Friday.
Lockett had already been convicted of four crimes when he was found guilty, by a jury in 2000, of murder, rape, kidnapping, burglary and other charges and given the death sentence. The murder victim was 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman, who came across Lockett and two accomplices as they were beating a man in front of his nine-month-old son during a robbery.
Neiman and a friend came to the house while the robbery was in progress. The intruders bound the two women with duct tape and raped Neiman’s friend. The three men then drove all four victims, including the baby, to a remote area, where Lockett shot Neiman with a sawn-off shotgun after she refused to say she would not report them to police. Lockett then watched as his two accomplices buried her alive.
A spokesman for the United Nations’ human rights office in Geneva said Lockett’s prolonged execution could amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international human rights law. Rupert Colville said Lockett’s was the second problematic execution in the US this year after Dennis McGuire’s death in Ohio on 16 January from an allegedly untested combination of drugs.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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