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May 1, 2014

Botched execution raises questions about lethal injection methods

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A recent execution of a convict in the state of Oklahoma went terribly wrong after the state tried a new, untested combination of drugs in what was supposed to be a lethal injection.

Clayton Lockett, convicted of shooting a 19-year-old girl and watching as friends buried her alive, wound up dying from a heart attack but onlookers described the process as gruesome and it took far longer than expected.

The case is raising questions about the constitutionality of lethal injections and whether mishandled executions violate the Eighth Amendment, which protects Americans from “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“We have a fundamental standard in this country that, even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary in response to the incident. “And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.”

The state of Oklahoma is launching an investigation into the what went wrong and how to improve standards going forward. It also halted the execution of another inmate, which was supposed to take place two hours after Lockett’s.

Despite this, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin defended the state’s death penalty law, saying of Lockett, “He had his day in court. 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.”


Warm up questions
  1. The death penalty in U.S. state prison systems remains controversial. Can you think of some arguments for both sides of the debate?
  2. Why do you think lethal injection is used most often instead of the other methods of execution such as the electric chair, hanging or firing squad?
Discussion questions
  1. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Do you think the execution of Clayton Lockett violated the Eighth Amendment?  Why or why not?
  2. Why might the drugs used to execute Clayton Lockett have failed? What can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
Writing prompt

Drawing on the questions in the warm up and discussion questions, make an argument for or against the death penalty. Be sure to include how the Eighth Amendment supports your argument (hint: it can be interpreted in different ways).

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