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Botched Execution Drives Death Penalty Debate

ARKANSAS -- A botched execution of an Oklahoma death row inmate is driving controversial death penalty discussions in Arkansas.



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ARKANSAS -- A botched execution of an Oklahoma death row inmate is driving controversial death penalty discussions in Arkansas.

Clayton Lockett was convicted of murder and set to be executed by lethal injection. After the first shot, witnesses say he regained consciousness, struggling to sit up. They said Lockett mumbled the word "man" and was in obvious pain. Prison officials halted the execution and Lockett ended up dying of a massive heart attack. An investigation is now underway to determine how the procedure went wrong.

States across the country, including Arkansas, are continually changing protocols for lethal injections. With accused secrecy behind the drug suppliers, many believe there is a need to overhaul the death penalty completely and the botched execution across state lines has Arkansans discussing death row.

"What happened in Oklahoma on Tuesday night with that execution, that certainly sounds inhumane... Here's one problem that could happen in any state," said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

"We're in a very difficult place with regard to the death penalty in Arkansas... We have no supply of the drugs and no identifiable source for a supply of drugs," said Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

Dieter knows secrecy behind lethal drugs has been a consistent concern.

"States will be better off if they can be more open about their work... The courts are going to demand more justification for everything the states are proposing to do, not to block them just to say look, give us the evidence."

Attorney General McDaniel explained his team is working to modify what he calls a "broken system," but is being met with legal battles.

"Lethal injection is itself legal in Arkansas, but the methods and the protocols that have been outlined by the General Assembly have deemed not to be legal and so we're waiting on the Supreme Court to hand down a ruling."

Until then, the death penalty is seemingly at a standstill in Arkansas.

"The answer is still lethal injection but the questions just keep mounting day by day... Will there be excessive pain? Will there be complications? Will it be successful? All of the questions that have been raised in the courts and certainly that are being raised by the execution in Oklahoma," said McDaniel.

Dieter said he believes Arkansas has the advantage, if you will, of looking around at what is working and what has not been working. If we cannot fix the current death penalty process, McDaniels said limited options would include abolishing the death penalty altogether.

According to the Arkansas Department of Correction, 32 people are currently on death row. Four of those are from Northwest Arkansas and one from the River Valley. Attorney General McDaniel said the last execution in our state was November 28, 2005. Currently, no executions are scheduled and no dates will be set until lawmakers come to an agreement regarding lethal injections. So until then, why are we still trying criminals for the death penalty?

Washington County Prosecutor John Threet
has had four death penalty trials and says that in Arkansas, it is difficult to get a death row verdict even though it is a constitutional punishment.

"Once the citizens of Arkansas say we don't want the death penalty, we won't have the death penalty. We're not at that point in Arkansas. It still appears to be, the vast majority of Arkansans believe that in certain cases, maybe multiple homicide victims, the death penalty is warranted at least as an option."

Lethal injections are currently the main method for carrying out capital punishment, but according to Arkansas Code 5-4-617, if the lethal injection method becomes unavailable or is invalidated our fallback method for executions is the electric chair. McDaniel does not believe that will become reality, but David Sterling who is running for the AG position, is proposing bringing the electric chair back.

"When people ask me whether or not I think that the electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment, I tell them no I don't think that it's cruel and unusual punishment. I don't think the United States Supreme Court believes it's cruel and unusual punishment. They've upheld it numerous times over the last few decades as constitutional."

Sterling's first proposal is to use a different type of lethal drug that could be locally compounded by pharmacies and readily available. In the meantime, he believes Arkansas rule of law needs to be carried out and that would mean using the electric chair. Click here to find out what the other Attorney General candidates have to say about the death penalty.

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