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Opening Arguments

Pick your horror

Forgive me if I don't join in the hand-wringing by the New York Times over the botched execution of Clayton Lockett:

At 6:36 p.m. on Tuesday in McAlester, Okla., Clayton Lockett started kicking his leg, then twitching, then writhing and moaning in agony, and everyone watching knew something had gone terribly wrong. Mr. Lockett, a convicted murderer, was strapped to a gurney in the death chamber of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, about to be executed by lethal injection, but the untested combination of a sedative and a paralyzing agent had failed.

According to an eyewitness account by a reporter for The Tulsa World, Mr. Lockett tried to raise himself up, mumbled the word “man,” and was in obvious pain. Officials hastily closed the blinds on the chamber and told reporters that the execution had been stopped because of a “vein failure.” But at 7:06, the inmate was pronounced dead of a heart attack.

This horrific scene — the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment — should never have happened.

The editorial goes on to list all the reasons for abolishing the death penalty. Not once does it even mention Lockett's crime, let alone hint that it, too, might have been a tad horrific, too.

As I've said here before, the death penalty is troubling and should cause mixed feelings even among supporters. On the negative side, the strongest argument is a conservative one: How can we trust a government with the awesome power of life and death? But, on the other hand, if we remove the worst punishment, what do we do about the worst crimes?

Crimes like the one Lockett committed:

In the Summer of 1999, Clayton Lockett and two accomplices, including a man named Shawn Mathis, were burglarizing a home when they were interrupted by 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman as she dropped off her friend who happened to live there. Neiman put up a fight when Lockett attempted to grab the keys to her new Chevy pickup truck. So the men beat her, wrapped her arms, mouth and legs with duct tape and then Lockett and his cohorts beat up Neiman’s friend, as well as another resident of the home and that person’s 9-month-old child.

It gets worse.

Neiman and her friends were abducted and driven out to a remote country road. Lockett and his victims waited while Mathis chipped away at the ground, digging a small grave along the road. Neiman was placed in the ditch and Lockett shot her with a sawed off shotgun. But she survived and began pleading for her life. Another shot, but this time the gun jammed. A third shot hit its target.

But Stephanie Neiman was still alive. So Lockett and Mathis buried her anyway. Alive.