Naturally, there is a sadist’s view of what happened to Lockett. The chorus began shortly after Lockett was declared dead of a heart attack, 43 minutes after his ordeal began. “It’s an execution, not a tea party,” remarked one online commentator.
In the minds of many, cruel and unusual was just what Locket deserved. In 1999, he forced 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman to watch as her grave was dug. He shot her as she stood in it. The gun jammed. He shot her as she begged for her life. Then, the teenager was buried, alive.
Nobody disputes Lockett’s guilt or the horror of his crime.
But what was done to Lockett was an unjustifiably gruesome act of homicide. And the United States’ obsession with finding a more comfortable, “humane” way to commit government-sanctioned homicide has led us to this place.
It began as a Republican state legislator tried to save face and appear harsh enough, conservative enough, among his peers. How familiar that sounds as a recipe for bad legislation.
Rep. William Wiseman’s conscience was troubled when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty in 1976, giving states the option to reinstate it. When that vote came up in Oklahoma, Wiseman voted in favor.
“I knew it was wrong, and I should have voted against it. But I didn’t,” Wiseman told Mother Jones in 2005. (He died in a plane crash in 2007.)
To assuage his guilt, Wiseman took another step.
He wrote the legislation that brought lethal injection to the state of Oklahoma. His goal was to find a less heinous way to kill. One day after Oklahoma passed it into law, Texas followed suit, using Wiseman’s bill as a prototype.
Today, more than 30 states have the death penalty and almost all of them use lethal injection. The problem is, key chemicals used to make the deadly drugs are no longer available and stocks are dwindling. Sodium thiopental, for example, is no longer made in the United States, and the European Union has taken great pains to restrict manufacturers there to provide it to governments that will use it for executions. In response, state authorities in the U.S. are trying new drug combinations, often with horrifying results.