- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin defended capital punishment Wednesday while calling for an independent review of the state’s death-penalty procedures after a botched execution prompted widespread criticism.

Ms. Fallin said at a press conference that Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson would lead the review into the state Department of Correction’s procedures on administering the death penalty.

“I believe the legal process worked. I believe the death penalty is an appropriate response and punishment to those who commit heinous crimes against their fellow men and women,” Ms. Fallin said. “However, I also believe the state needs to be certain of its protocols and procedures and make sure that they work.”

The Republican governor had called Tuesday night for an investigation into the state’s lethal-injection protocol, shortly after the execution of inmate Clayton Derrell Lockett was halted after he began convulsing on the gurney.

Lockett, who had been injected with a three-drug mix of chemicals being used for the first time in Oklahoma, died of an apparent heart attack without regaining consciousness 43 minutes after the execution began.

That night, Ms. Fallin ordered a 14-day moratorium on the execution of a second inmate, Charles Frederick Warner, who had also been scheduled to be put to death Tuesday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Lockett, 38, was convicted in 1999 of shooting 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman and then watching two accomplices bury her alive. Warner, 46, was convicted of raping and killing his live-in girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter in 1997.

White House spokesman Jay Carney joined a slew of death-penalty opponents Wednesday in criticizing the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for failing to carry out a humane execution.

“We have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely — and I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard,” Mr. Carney said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma called for an “immediate moratorium on all executions in the state pending the outcome of the investigation.”

“If we are to have executions at all, they must not be conducted like hastily thrown together human science experiments,” said ACLU of Oklahoma legal director Brady Henderson in a statement.

Ms. Fallin said that no prisoner would be executed before the independent evaluation was completed. The stay of execution for Warner expires May 13, but if the review is still ongoing, “an additional stay will be granted at that time,” she said Wednesday.

Ms. Fallin said the independent review would focus on three issues: Lockett’s cause of death, on which an independent pathologist would be authorized to make a determination; whether the corrections department followed current protocol; and the development of protocols to improve executions.

Attorneys for Lockett and Warner had sued to find out where the drugs used in the execution had been obtained. The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the request last week after the state Attorney General argued that divulging the source would result in intimidation against the manufacturer from death-penalty opponents.

Several European chemical companies have begun refusing to provide the drugs long used in U.S. executions, forcing state corrections officials to seek out new drug sources.

The state announced that it would use a mixture of three drugs: midazolam to induce unconsciousness; vecuronium bromide to stop respiration; and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Oklahoma corrections chief Robert Patton stopped the execution after about 20 minutes, and the blinds were drawn to block the view of witnesses in the viewing gallery. Mr. Patton later said at a press briefing that Lockett’s vein had “exploded.”

“It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched,” Lockett’s attorney, David Autry, told The Associated Press.

Miss Nieman’s parents, Steve and Susie Nieman, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Lockett’s victim was “the joy of our life.”

“We are thankful this day has finally arrived and justice will finally be served,” said their handwritten statement posted online on the KJRH-TV in Tulsa website.

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