Capital Punishment - Death Penalty in the United States

Inmate's 43-minute execution didn't violate clearly established law, 10th Circuit rules

ABA Journal Daily News
By Debra Cassens Weiss
Posted Nov 17, 2016 07:00 am CST


A botched execution that continued for 43 minutes, causing the condemned man to writhe and grimace in pain, didn’t violate clearly established law regarding cruel and unusual punishment, a federal appeals court has ruled.


The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Oklahoma inmate, Clayton Lockett, suffered during the execution, but that there was no clearly established Eighth Amendment violation. The court upheld dismissal of the suit for damages filed by Lockett’s estate. Slate and the Tulsa World covered the decision.


"The Supreme Court’s death-penalty opinions recognize that executions can go awry," the three-judge panel said in an opinion (PDF) by Judge Gregory Phillips. An isolated mishap alone doesn’t give rise to an Eighth Amendment violation, the court said, citing Supreme Court precedent.


Because there was no violation of clearly established law, Oklahoma officials involved in the execution are entitled to qualified immunity, the court said.


Lockett had suffered during the execution because the drugs he received had leaked into surrounding tissue. The problem went undiscovered, the court said, because the execution team covered Lockett’s groin area where the IV was placed due to "concerns for Lockett’s dignity and privacy."


The appeals court also rejected a claim by Lockett’s estate that he was entitled to counsel throughout the execution.


In a concurrence, Judge Nancy Moritz said the majority said it was deciding the case based on qualified immunity, but it went on to unnecessarily decide constitutional questions. Read more


Hat tip to the Marshall Project and How Appealing.


ORDER re Execution of Clayton Lockett
Adobe Acrobat document [106.9 KB]

Execution of Clayton Lockett. Wikipedia

Execution of Clayton Lockett


The death of Clayton Darrell Lockett occurred on April 29, 2014, when he suffered a heart attack during an execution by lethal injection in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. Lockett, aged 38, was convicted in 2000 of murder, rape, and kidnapping.


Lockett was administered an untested mixture of drugs that had not previously been used for executions in the United States.[2] Although the execution was stopped, Lockett died 43 minutes after being sedated. He writhed, groaned, convulsed,[3] and spoke during the process and attempted to rise from the execution table fourteen minutes into the procedure, despite having been declared unconscious.[4]



Biography of Clayton Lockett


Clayton Lockett was born in 1975 to a drug-using mother. She abandoned him when he was three years old, and he was then raised by his father who severely physically abused him throughout his childhood, gave him (Lockett) drugs starting at age 3, and encouraged him (Lockett) to steal and not get caught.[5][6][7]


Criminal history


In 1992, at the age of sixteen, Lockett pleaded guilty in Kay County to burglary and knowingly concealing stolen property. He received a seven-year prison sentence. Earlier that year, he pleaded no contest to two counts of intimidating state witnesses.


While imprisoned at age 16 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, a prison for adults, Lockett was gang raped by three adult male prisoners.[8][9]


In 1999, Lockett kidnapped, beat, and shot Stephanie Neiman, a nineteen-year-old high school graduate, friend of Lockett's other victims, and a witness to his crimes. 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 did not back down when Lockett asked if she planned to contact police. After she stated she would go to the police, Lockett decided to bury her alive.[10] Lockett ordered an accomplice to bury her while she was still breathing. She died from two wounds from a shotgun fired by Lockett.[10] In 2000, he was convicted of murder, rape, forcible sodomy, kidnapping, assault and battery and sentenced to death. Previously Lockett was sentenced to four years in prison for a conviction in 1996 in Grady County for conspiracy to commit a felony.[1]


At his 1999 murder trial, DNA from the dead victim, fingerprints from the duct tape used to bind the victim, and eye-witness testimony led to his murder conviction.[1] Read more


Letters written by Clayton Lockett