- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2

Pull the plug on Missouri’s killing machine:

Before Clayton Lockett, there was Emmitt Foster.

On April 29, the state of Oklahoma botched the execution of Mr. Lockett, who had shot a woman and buried her alive. The state’s three-drug cocktail of death didn’t do its job. As Mr. Lockett lay writhing in pain, Oklahoma’s director of the Department of Corrections halted the execution. It was too late. Mr. Lockett had a heart attack and died.

Tulsa World reporter Zeva Branstetter, who was there as a witness for the state, wrote a harrowing account of the tragic mishap.

Lockett kicks his right leg and his head rolls to the side. He mumbles something we can’t understand,” she wrote. “Lockett is grimacing, grunting and lifting his head and shoulders entirely up from the gurney. He begins rolling his head from side to side. He again mumbles something we can’t understand, except for the word ‘man.’ He lifts his head and shoulders off the gurney several times, as if he’s trying to sit up. He appears to be in pain.”

No such account could be written when Mr. Foster was put to death in a similarly botched execution in Missouri in 1995.

In the case of Mr. Foster, who killed a softball teammate in a 1983 robbery in St. Louis County, state officials closed the blinds when the similar three-drug cocktail failed to work properly. His death took about 30 minutes. At least one witness refused to sign the routine statement that she had witnessed the execution.

It was in many ways the perfect metaphor for the death penalty in Missouri. Elected officials work very hard to keep the grisly details behind a dark curtain.

The reality is that as long as the death penalty has been around in the U.S., there have been botched executions.

Lawsuits filed after Mr. Foster’s case contributed to changes in Missouri’s protocol. The state now just uses one drug in its lethal injections, pentobarbital.

But in so many ways, Missouri is just like Oklahoma, relying on a system of state-sanctioned killing that is fraught with peril and shrouded in secrecy. It is a policy that, particularly in cases such as the tortuous killing of Mr. Lockett, dehumanizes all of us. The Washington Post on Thursday pointed to 21 cases of botched executions since lethal injection became the standard method of execution in the U.S.

Since 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court halted executions after its ruling in Furman vs. Georgia, states like Missouri have altered their methods of killing over and over again, trying to find that right balance that gets the job done without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The way Mr. Lockett died would undoubtedly violate our nation’s constitutional protections, and that’s why Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, had no choice but to order a review of death penalty procedures in her state.

Here in Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, should do the same thing.

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