Two convicted murderers and rapists — Clayton Lockett died apparently of a heart attack after receiving his lethal injection. Charles Warner is alive after a stay of execution due to problems in the mix of lethal drugs in Lockett’s injection — have Oklahoma’s penal and legal systems in a bind with Governor Mary Fallin promising a review in the weeks to come. Why would a convicted murderer and rapist dying after receiving his lethal injection cause such a fuss? It seems that Lockett might have been conscious, or partially so, for some minutes after having been injected. The cocktail of drugs used was a new blend, if you will, because of European countries like Denmark refusing to allow drugs produced in their territories to be used in lethal injections. Death penalty opponents are already all over this one, hoping that citizens will be “disgusted” by this sort of thing – in the words of Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. Yes, one look at Lockett and Warner’s rap sheets will produce, at the very least, disgust. Clayton Lockett raped and murdered his way through a home invasion in the late 90′s, but Charles Warner went a step further; he sexually assaulted and brutally murdered his girlfriend’s infant daughter.
Cruel and unusual punishment is being proclaimed by Warner’s attorney, Madeline Cohen, and other states may review their procedures with respect to lethal injections. Was Lockett — he spent a little more than 20 minutes in a perhaps a conscious state before dying — subjected to cruel and unusual punishment? Just over forty years ago, Justice William Brennan laid out four principles by which a court may test to see if a punishment is “cruel and unusual”. They are as follows: That it is degrading to human dignity, that it is applied in an arbitrary fashion, that it is rejected throughout society, and that it is patently unnecessary. An injection applied in a spotless, silent chamber seems hardly degrading unless you suscribe to the view that all punishment is degrading and we should send killers to counselling. A legal process filled with appeals that can last years if not decades is light years from arbitrary by any common standard. Rejected throughout society? The problem is exactly the opposite; In the UK a majority support it in recent polls and in Canada over 60% favor a return of the death penalty in a recent Angus Reid poll. The reformist elites do their best to ignore or evade this basic fact as they seek to further liberalize the penal system. Is it patently unnecessary? If you believe that Justice is merely fine tuning statistics on crime, although the severity of punishments in nearly crime free Singapore makes you flinch, then one might be tempted to spend countless dollars keeping criminals like Charles Warner alive for the rest of their lives. If you believe that Justice must be swift, sure, and seen to be done in order for society to assure its citizens that the contract it keeps with them is worth trusting, then one can only hope that Oklahoma’s review will be as brief as possible and that Charles Warner will get his due as soon as possible.