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Botched execution may cause some Oklahomans to rethink death penalty

By any standards, Tuesday's attempted execution of Clayton Lockett was a public relations disaster for the State of Oklahoma.

Though Lockett did eventually die, it's unclear if the drugs administered actually killed him -- about 45 minutes after they were administered -- or whether he had a massive heart attack.

The media blitz spread quickly and furiously around the world, and has once again triggered debate the hot-button issue of the death penalty.

But for some, the argument is shifting from moral grounds to practical ones, and the Lockett case feeds directly into that new argument.

Austin Sarat has written extensively on law and justice, and is Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College.

He tells KRMG that a study of botched executions between the years 1890 and 2010 shows the least reliable method is lethal injection.

In fact, in his book, "Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty," he reaches the conclusion that 7 percent of lethal injections fail to follow protocol and/or result in unexpected or unintended consequences.

A condemned person trying to sit up and speak long after the drugs were administered, as Lockett did, would be an example of such consequences.

"We're in a period of national reconsideration of capital punishment," Sarat told KRMG. "The issue is (sic), not is it good in theory, but can it be administered in a reliable way? Can we accurately differentiate the innocent from the guilty? Can we accurately determine who deserves a death sentence? And then once we've done that, can we deliver the death sentence in a way that is compatible with the Constitutional guarantee that there shall be no cruel or unusual punishment?"

The other issue increasingly under discussion is the high cost of death penalty cases, a cost borne by taxpayers.

Any number of studies show that putting someone in prison for life is much less expensive than all the court costs, administrative costs, and other expenses associated with carrying out an execution.

Now, the very availability of an effective, reliable method of chemical execution is increasingly questionable.

Finally, studies on whether the death penalty actually serves to deter crime have been inconclusive.

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