Death penalty controversy is nothing new in the United States. The debate over whether or not it is an effective means of justice or an inhumane ending to an individual’s life continues to rage on from many different aspects. In most recent events, President Barack Obama has called for a Justice Department inquiry into the application of the death penalty, or capital punishment as it is also commonly known, nationwide after the botched execution of an inmate in Oklahoma on Tuesday.
The latest botched execution involved Clayton Lockett, who was convicted of murder, rape, kidnapping, and burglary in 2000. It took 43 minutes for Lockett to die after being given a lethal injection, during which time he was subjected to violent convulsions and suffered a massive heart attack leading to his death. Lockett was already a four-time felon when he was convicted of a multitude of serious offenses and sentenced to the death penalty in 2000. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has called for an investigation into Lockett’s and all state-run executions, as well as issued a stay on the execution of Charles Warner, who was scheduled to be killed by the same drug cocktail that caused Lockett’s protracted suffering. In fact, Warner was scheduled for execution with the same cocktail later that same night as Lockett. The White House implied on Wednesday that Lockett’s protracted death might have violated the provision against cruel and unusual punishment established in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
While the debate over whether or not the death penalty is an effective means of justice or an inhumane ending to an individual’s life, proponents on both sides of the debate are prepared to state their cases. One proponent of the death penalty who will not be silenced is Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian, who is a Republican lawmaker who petitioned to have impeachment proceedings initiated against state Supreme Court justices for their hand in halting Tuesday’s execution, and whose strongly worded pro-death penalty comments have ignited controversy. While on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are death penalty opponents like Eugene Robinson, an opinion writer for The Washington Post, who wrote a column about the death penalty in the wake of Lockett’s botched execution. Robinson stated: “When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment.” The writer continued, “When I read about what Lockett did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.”
Obama said the death penalty is appropriate in some cases, including mass murder and murder offenses involving children. However, he also pointed out the contention that the use of executions could often reflect racial bias. Moreover, he pointed to the numerous exonerations of death row inmates over the years, especially since the advent of widespread DNA evidence testing methods. As a result of these contentions as well as an established history of botched executions nationwide, Obama has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to analyze the death penalty’s application process. Moreover, the Justice Department is investigating how executions are carried out with a special focus on issues of race and wrongful convictions.
The botched execution in Oklahoma of Lockett has once again helped renew the debate over whether or not the death penalty is an effective means of justice or an inhumane ending to an individual’s life, as outraged death penalty opponents claimed cruel and inhumane treatment, capital punishment proponents defended the need for justice, invited court challenges, and attracted worldwide attention. In response, the Justice Department has launched a review of state-run executions of death-row inmates following President Obama’s directive in the wake of a botched execution earlier this week in Oklahoma. Similar to one it has been conducting on federal capital punishment, the agency would begin a review of state-run capital punishment programs. Federal executions are uncommon, yet there has been a moratorium in place since 2011 while the Justice Department reviews its policies. Does the same fate await state-run death penalty programs? Will a moratorium be put in place regarding certain capital punishment methods and protocols? Does the sense of justice continue to outweigh the potential for inhumanity in death penalty applications? It appears only time and careful review will ultimately answer these queries.
By Leigh Haugh
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