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The horror of Oklahoma’s botched execution

A must read from Andrew Cohen, who sums up the horror of yesterday’s botched execution in Oklahoma and what it portends for the death penalty nationwide in this excellent piece at the Atlantic.

Here’s the timeline of what went down:

6:23 PM – Prison officials raise the blinds. Execution begins.

6:28 PM – Inmate shivering, sheet shaking.  Breathing deep.

6:29 PM – Inmate blinking and gritting his teeth.  Adjusts his head.

6:30 PM – Prison officials check to see if inmate is unconscious.  Doctor says, “He’s not unconscious.”  Inmate says “I’m not.”  Female prison official says, “Mr. Lockett is not unconscious.”

6:32 PM – Inmate’s breathing is normal, mouth open, eyes shut. For a second time, prison officials check to see if inmate is unconscious.

6:33 PM – Doctor says, “He is unconscious.” Prison official says “Mr. Lockett is unconscious.”

6:34 PM – Inmate’s mouth twitches.  No sign of breathing.

6:35 PM – Mouth movement.

6:36 PM – Inmate’s head moves from side to side, then lifts his head off the bed.

6:37 PM – Inmate lifts his head and feet slightly off the bed.  Inmate tries to say something, mumbles while moving body.

6:38 pm – More movement by the inmate. At this point the inmate is breathing heavily and appears to be struggling.

6:39 PM – Inmate tries to talk. Says “man” and appears to be trying to get up. Doctor checks on inmate. Female prison official says, “We are going to lower the blinds temporarily.” Prison phone rings. Director of Prisons Robert Patton answers the phone and leaves the room—taking three state officials with him.

Minutes later—the director of prisons comes back into the room and tells the eyewitnesses that there has been a vein failure. He says, “The chemical did not make it into the vein of the prisoner. Under my authority, we are issuing a stay of execution.”

And from that timeline, Cohen pulls this line — “We are going to lower the blinds temporarily” — as the epitaph for the whole debacle:

We are going to lower the blinds temporarily. That’s the sentence from the timeline of the execution that may come to serve as an epitaph for this affair. Virtually this entire process was done in the dark, in secret, so that state officials would not have to answer basic questions about the drugs they sought to use against Lockett. And then, when those officials realized they had made a terrible mistake, down came the blinds again. Until those blinds are raised, until this process becomes transparent in Oklahoma and everywhere else, it is unworthy of a nation that teaches its children about civilization and a rule of law.

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