Capital Error

The botched execution of Clayton Lockett is getting a lot of attention this morning. As a supporter of the death penalty, I think it’s necessary for executions to be as humane and unsensational as possible.  But I am unable to muster much sympathy for Mr. Lockett himself, given the nature of his crime:

Stephanie Neiman was proud of her shiny new Chevy truck with the Tasmanian Devil sticker on it and a matching “Tazz” license plate.

Her parents had taught the teenager to stand up for “what was her right and for what she believed in.”

Neiman was dropping off a friend at a Perry residence on June 3, 1999, the same evening Clayton Lockett and two accomplices decided to pull a home invasion robbery there. Neiman fought Lockett when he tried to take the keys to her truck.

The men beat her and used duct tape to bind her hands and cover her mouth. Even after being kidnapped and driven to a dusty country road, Neiman didn’t back down when Lockett asked if she planned to contact police.

The men had also beaten and kidnapped Neiman’s friend along with Bobby Bornt, who lived in the residence, and Bornt’s 9-month-old baby.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong. Maybe that’s what Clayton was so scared of, because Stephanie did stand up for her rights,” her parents later wrote to jurors in an impact statement. “She did not blink an eye at him. We raised her to work hard for what she got.”

Steve and Susie Neiman asked jurors to give Lockett the death penalty for taking the life of their only child, who had graduated from Perry High School two weeks before her death.

Lockett later told police “he decided to kill Stephanie because she would not agree to keep quiet,” court records state.

Neiman was forced to watch as Lockett’s accomplice, Shawn Mathis, spent 20 minutes digging a shallow grave in a ditch beside the road. Her friends saw Neiman standing in the ditch and heard a single shot.

Lockett returned to the truck because the gun had jammed. He later said he could hear Neiman pleading, “Oh God, please, please” as he fixed the shotgun.

The men could be heard “laughing about how tough Stephanie was” before Lockett shot Neiman a second time.

“He ordered Mathis to bury her, despite the fact that Mathis informed him Stephanie was still alive.”

Meanwhile another Oklahoma death-row inmate, Charles Warner, has had his execution delayed — perhaps indefinitely — because of the fiasco with Lockett. Mr. Warner was convicted of raping and murdering an eleven-month old girl. Yes, you read that correctly. When the baby’s mother came home, she found her “limp and lifeless.” ”Her skull, jaw and ribs were fractured. Her liver was lacerated, her spleen and lungs were bruised.”

In an unrelated case, he was charged with beating a five-year-old girl with an extension chord, and raping her as well. 

Many of the accounts of Lockett’s botched execution make it clear that it was a terrible thing to watch. From the L.A. Times:

The lawyer emerged from Lockett’s execution Tuesday deeply troubled.

He had filed into the execution observation room with a fellow lawyer and other witnesses, including reporters and corrections staff members.

Lockett’s family was not there, the lawyer said — the prisoner had asked his relatives not to come.

“He didn’t want that to be their last image of him,” Sanderford said.

The lawyer said he was later grateful for Lockett’s decision.

“It was an awful thing to witness,” he said of the procedure, likening the experience to torture.

I have no doubt it was a terrible spectacle to behold, but it still seems like far easier viewing than the crimes that led to the spectacle. 


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