Oklahoma’s top appeals court agreed Thursday to halt all executions in the south-central U.S. state for six months, after a botched lethal injection last week triggered accusations of torture.
Clayton Lockett’s execution, in which the convicted murderer and rapist died 43 minutes after the start of the lethal injection and appeared in significant pain, renewed fierce debate over the death penalty in the United States.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set for Nov. 13 the execution of Charles Warner, who had originally been scheduled to be put to death the same evening as Lockett.
After Lockett’s bungled execution, that of Warner, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 11-month-old baby, was first delayed until May 13.
The attorney general’s office backed the court’s decision, saying in a filing that “the state will not object to a 180-day stay to allow completion of (Oklahoma Public Safety Department) Commissioner Michael C. Thompson’s investigation.”
However, it called “unwarranted” an indefinite stay, as requested by the state corrections director.
The court also ordered Oklahoma authorities to keep it informed of the investigation and any change to the execution protocol. Lockett was put to death with an untested three-drug protocol on April 29.
“No one wants to see another prolonged, botched execution take place,” Warner’s attorneys said.
“Before any new execution can take place, Oklahoma needs ample time to review and revise its protocol and fully train its staff,” lawyers Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day added in a statement.
“The extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection that led to Mr Lockett’s agonizing death must be replaced with transparency in order to ensure that executions are legal and humane.”
President Barack Obama, who backs the death penalty for heinous crimes, has condemned the “deeply troubling” incident.
He has ordered Attorney General Eric Holder, who is seeking the death penalty in the Boston Marathon bombings case, to conduct a policy review of how the death penalty is applied in the United States.
But Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin defended Lockett’s “lawful execution,” stressing how odious his crime had been.
The Republican governor did, however, acknowledge that “the process of death by lethal injection took too long,” and ordered an investigation and a review of the procedure.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton has recommended a “comprehensive review of the execution protocol,” asking for a suspension of executions to conduct the probe.
Patton revealed that prior to his execution, a defiant Lockett had been tasered and had also deliberately cut his arm.
Patton also said that technicians had found it difficult to find a vein to insert the lethal drugs in and eventually found a point in the groin.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]