The Norman Transcript

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May 3, 2014

Obama troubled by Okla. execution

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday called the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate “deeply troubling” and said he’s going to ask the attorney general to analyze problems surrounding application of the death penalty in the United States.

In his first public comments on the case of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett, the president, who formerly taught constitutional law, expressed conflicting feelings about the death penalty and said Americans need to “ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues.”

Obama said the death penalty is warranted in some cases, specifically mentioning mass murder and child murder, and said Lockett’s crimes were “heinous.” But he said the death penalty’s application in the United States is problematic, with evidence of racial bias and 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 said, who was asked about the Oklahoma execution at a White House news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “And this situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the significant problems there.”

The state of Oklahoma attempted to carry out Lockett’s death sentence Tuesday 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, then died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

“What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling,” Obama said when asked about international condemnation of U.S. application of the death penalty in light of Lockett’s case. He said he’ll be asking Attorney General Eric 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 and Justice Department declined to comment further on what the analysis might cover.

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