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Oklahoma executions reveal secrecy, inhumanity

By Andrew Scot Bolsinger
Trice Edney Newswire


The state of the flawed executions in America was by no means a secret, but it took a botched attempt in front of a tweeting reporter and witnesses to bring the true depth of this problem into the public eye.

Though Oklahoma prison officials tried to pull the curtain to block the view of those watching a man, who was supposed to be killed quickly and “humanely” as required by the law, quiver, shake and try to speak, the truth of the situation can’t be hidden following the botched execution April 29. The secret drugs don’t work, the process is broken and people are dying grizzly deaths right here in America.

What’s worse is many saw this coming, including a death row inmate Reggie Clemons, interviewed weeks before the death of Clayton D. Lockett.

Oklahoma has ramped up its killing machines in recent years. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the state has executed 14 inmates in the last three years, more than any other state, including Texas.  Since 2010, seven states — Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, Alabama and Mississippi — have conducted nearly 90 percent of all executions in the country. Texas alone with 68 executions far outpaces the 23 performed by all the other 43 states combined.

Those statistics will forever now have an asterisk by it for 2014 following the execution of Lockett. Does he count now as number 15? He didn’t technically die by execution. He died much later in a nearby hospital where doctors tried to save his life from the unknown chemicals pumped into his system. He died of a heart attack brought on by the actions of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that were so flawed it tortured him, but did not kill him.

Reggie Clemons and his spiritual adviser, Rev. Madeline Coburn.    COURTESY PHOTO

Reggie Clemons and his spiritual adviser, Rev. Madeline Coburn.

The Lockett execution had already been delayed briefly over the drugs being used. Prior to the execution, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled two death row inmates are not entitled to know the source of the drugs that will be used to kill them. The court also lifted a stay of execution it had granted earlier in the week. According to published reports, the back-and-forth court battle placed Oklahoma’s two highest courts at odds and prompted calls for impeaching justices on the Supreme Court.

In this highly politicized mess, Oklahoma pushed ahead its plans to execute two prisoners on the same day. While Charles Warner, who has maintained his innocence, awaited his turn in what he thought was the final hours of his life, Lockett lay squirming on the execution table.

According to the AP reporter on the scene, about 34 minutes after the execution was scheduled to begin, Lockett was still conscious, NPR reported.

“He was lifting (his) head at (7:39 p.m. ET) and he was still alive and DOC closed (the) curtain and stopped it,” reporter Cary Aspinwall tweeted.

Death row perspective

News of the botched execution spread quickly through death row, according to Missouri death row inmate, Reggie Clemons, who said it was the center of conversation.

“I think people here are mostly numb because of the executions that had started up here again” Clemons said. “A lot of people were hoping there wouldn’t be any more executions in the state of Missouri. It’s an emotional shock for people who were beginning to experience the executions of those who they came to know.”

Before Oklahoma’s botched execution, Clemons had spoken out in an April interview. Clemons pre-empted questions to draw attention to the status of Oklahoma’s death penalty ruling. He noted Missouri has the same laws that conceal the drugs it uses to administer lethal injection. Oklahoma also concealed the drugs used in its botched execution attempt.

“(That’s) the thing that is scary to me — and that’s one of the reasons there is a petition out there called ‘Capital Consequences’ in memory of Rachel King. The petition is attempting to challenge the legality of the death penalty in its practice and implementation. And what this lethal injection really is — is that in order to continue executing people they are hiding what’s involved and what the practices are,” Clemons said. “Imagine if other areas of government start to do that, like a police, where they don’t have to tell you what they do. It’s a dangerous precedent they’re trying to set.”

Secrecy laws make it impossible to challenge in court, he said.

Clemons has the unique perspective of experiencing the lead up to an execution while still being alive to talk about it. He was just five days from his own execution date when he was given a stay because of the potential inhumanity of lethal injection. That stay proved critical to Clemons. By the time Missouri’s courts lifted the stay, evidence suppressed for years in Clemons case was finally made public.

Michael Manners, a judge appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to review the case, issued a scathing report of police and prosecutorial misconduct in Clemons’ case.

“There was shoddy police work almost beyond comprehension,” he said. “(By) shoddy, I mean they took a path of least resistance, closing an investigation early as it was the easiest thing to do.”

Manners ruled Clemons confession was the result of hours of police coercion and suppressed evidence. Clemons said police beat him; a medical examiner gave testimony in support of this claim. All of this had yet to be made public when Clemons’ execution date approached. Clemons has steadfastly maintained his innocence, even pushing to be tried for rape charges filed against him but never pursued.

“I don’t know nothing about any murder,” Clemons said in two hours of wide-ranging interviews about the circumstance of his crime. “I didn’t rape nobody, I didn’t rob nobody, I didn’t murder anybody. That I do know. I can say that is absolutely true.”

It took nearly two decades for DNA evidence to be admitted into court, evidence that fails to connect Clemons. While all of this pile of evidence remains under scrutiny of the state Supreme Court, Clemons remains on death row. He uses his time as a fierce opponent of the death penalty.

“I want to educate people about the death penalty in the state of Missouri and how it’s operating right now,” he said.

Clemons may well have his case overturned, and be found innocent. If police beatings, suppressed evidence, shoddy police work don’t constitute a measure of doubt it’s hard to say what does. If he is found innocent, the only reason he is alive is because of the legal maneuvers that questioned the validity of lethal injection. His co-defendant has already been executed.

Andrew Scot Bolsinger is a freelance writer, author and operates, which is focused on prison reform. He can reached at and followed @CriminalUniv on Twitter.


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