Whenever Oklahoma gets on the national news, it’s always something bad. We pretty much get ignored unless we are hit with a massive tragedy or some Okie manages to make a real mess of one sort of the other.
Our latest foray into national attention is no exception.
Oklahoma has developed real problems executing people. Between lawsuits and botched executions, we’ve shown ourselves to be downright incompetent in the area of administering the death penalty. All this led to the second kind of national attention we usually get, which is to say a derisive critique.
This situation came about because of the zealous fight put up by attorneys for the two men slated for execution by the State of Oklahoma this year. After exhausting years of appeals, the attorneys switched from defense to offense. The object of their attack was the method of execution itself. They managed to intimidate the drug companies that supply drugs that are used in executions to the point that the state had problems getting enough drugs to kill someone.
When it came time to execute one of the two men, the prisoner — who had a history of assaulting and trying to kill people while in prison, particularly guards — resisted being moved from his cell. The guards had to taser him. Maybe the aftereffects of that hit with electricity was why things went so awry later.
All I know for sure is that the doctor couldn’t find a vein to use to administer the drugs and finally had to put the needle in the prisoner’s groin. According to news reports, the needle “blew” the vein, which led to a thoroughly botched execution. The prisoner ultimately died, but it was 45 minutes later, after the doctor stopped the execution.
The governor has issued a stay until next November for the other prisoner.
I wrote at the time that the attorneys for these two men needed to consider carefully what they were doing. I knew that Oklahoma has the laws on the books to use a firing squad as a means of execution. I also knew that the legislative will was to do exactly that.
Now, my colleague, Representative Mike Christian, wants to conduct hearings on what process would be necessary to switch to death by firing squad as the preferred method of execution in Oklahoma. Representative Christian, who is a retired Highway Patrolman and fellow Southsider, has said that he would be fine with beheading or feeding prisoners to the lions as methods of execution. In my opinion, that pretty much sums up the prevailing attitude among the people I worked with.
I guess I get to say I told you so.
I don’t want to behave like a seeress, but with me gone, the number of legislators who will be voting against the death penalty next year just dropped by one. Not that we had enough votes between us to matter. Legislators who oppose the death penalty in Oklahoma are a tiny group. If it comes to a vote, the chances of legislation passing that would enable the use of firing squads in Oklahoma is just about 100%. And that’s assuming that legislation is even necessary. Oklahoma already has this means of execution on the books.
I understand that the attorney for a death row inmate operates from the idea that any delay is a good delay. If they can buy their client one day, they’ll do it. But this particular delay may not play out to be all that pleasant for those who will be executed.
I’ve never seen an execution, and hope sincerely that I never have to. But people who have seen executions by lethal injection tell me that it looks painless for the prisoner. No one can say that for other means of execution. They may be quick, but they don’t look painless.
Killing people is grisly business. Lethal injection is certainly the most painless way we’ve found to do it. As I’ve said repeatedly, I do not favor the death penalty except in rare situations that almost never, and shouldn’t ever, arise in America. However, I am aware that I am an outlier on this.
Most people in this country, and certainly most people in Oklahoma, favor the death penalty. The feeling runs so strong that even the Supreme Court had to overturn itself back in the 1970s when it ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. Of course, the Supreme Court didn’t say it was overturning itself. But that’s what it did.
Americans want the death penalty. Not many elected officials are going to argue with them about it. As it turns out, not many judges will, either.
If death row inmates had the wherewithal to donate millions to political campaigns, that would change in a heartbeat. You’d suddenly see elected officials all over this country developing a tender conscience about the death penalty. But people on death row are almost always poor, which eliminates that possibility.
So that’s where we stand. All I can do is repeat one more time: I told ya this was gonna happen.