Experts Say Botched Execution in Oklahoma is Unlikely to Bring Big Death-Penalty Changes

Experts Say Botched Execution in Oklahoma is Unlikely to Bring Big Death-Penalty Changes

[The Washington Post]

Hossein Dabiri with Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty holds a sign protesting the death penalty at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. (Steve Gooch/AP)
Hossein Dabiri with Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty holds a sign protesting the death penalty at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. (Steve Gooch/AP)

The botched execution in Oklahoma that caused a prisoner to die in apparent agony triggered a review by the state’s governor Wednesday but is unlikely to lead to major changes in the death penalty nationwide, experts on capital punishment said.

With the circumstances of Clayton Lockett’s death drawing criticism from activists and even the White House, people on both sides of the debate over capital punishment said the case would trigger a flurry of litigation over lethal injection, the primary method of execution in the United States. Lockett, a convicted murderer, received such an injection Tuesday night, writhed and grimaced on a gurney in a scene described by witnesses as horrific and died 43 minutes later of a heart attack.

But while courts might order changes in how injections are administered and put safeguards in place, the procedure itself is unlikely to be overturned, experts said. The Supreme Court upheld lethal injection as constitutional in 2008, although the ruling came from a divided court and led to more legal challenges. Five states and the federal government have put executions on hold in recent years while designing new methods of administering the deadly drugs.

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