On his way to the presidency, Barack Obama said a lot of things…
He told us he was against same-sex marriage.
He said he opposed new taxes on middle-class Americans.
And he told us he supported the death penalty.
But, like a mirage in the hot Arizona desert, many of Obama’s promises have evaporated.
Most recently, the Justice Department – with Attorney General Eric Holder leading the charge – has begun investigating states that are still using the death penalty.
The inquiry is, ostensibly, the result of April’s execution of convicted killer Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma.
On June 3, 1999, Lockett abducted, beat up, and finally shot 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman. He then ordered Shawn Mathis to dig a grave in a ditch beside the road. With her mouth duct-taped and her hands bound, Neiman was buried alive.
At Lockett’s trial, prosecutors produced DNA evidence, as well as his fingerprints on the duct tape. According to the trial transcript, Lockett admitted to police that “he decided to kill Stephanie because she would not agree to keep quiet.”
Lockett was convicted of murder, rape, forcible sodomy, kidnapping and assault. And 15 years later, he was executed.
But as most know, Lockett’s execution didn’t go smoothly. According to Eric Holder, Lockett felt some pain during his execution, which Obama called “deeply troubling.”
Let Justice Be Served
The president went on to say the review of all death penalty cases in America is necessary: “Racial bias. Uneven application of the death penalty. Situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to be innocent… All of these do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied. I think as a society, we have to ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions.”
Traditionally, though, the death penalty has been the domain of the states – and Senator Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, brought this up with the president.
As a former State Attorney General and prosecutor who’s familiar with the procedures used in death penalty cases, Ayotte disputed Obama’s attempts to meddle with the death penalty:
“This is an issue that has been reserved for the states, and I would hope that the Attorney General, in reviewing this, would not take any kind of executive action, but would instead make his recommendations to the states, and let them act accordingly.”
Don’t count on that happening, though. From day one, the Obama team has displayed an arrogant, go-it-alone attitude on most issues.
What’s more, if anyone is responsible for Lockett’s pain, it’s the U.S. government.
You see, Obama’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ordered its agents to seize supplies of sodium thiopental – the painkiller ubiquitously used in executions – in 2011, after questions arose about how the drugs were imported.
Oklahoma was then forced to use an untested combination of drugs in Lockett’s execution, which resulted in his painful death. Oklahoma used a mixture of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride for Lockett’s execution, and his cause of death was ruled a heart attack brought on by the drugs.
Witnesses said his body twitched with pain. But frankly, I’m more concerned with the pain of Stephanie Neiman. Lockett damned himself the night he killed her.
At the sentencing hearing, Steve and Susie Neiman asked jurors to give Lockett death. They described the tragedy of losing their only daughter to a vicious killer:
“Every day we are left with horrific images of what the last hours of Stephanie’s life was like. We were left with an empty home full of memories and the deafening silence of the lack of life within its walls… We feel that the only thing left to do is let Clayton Lockett serve out the sentence of death that a jury sentenced him to. Anything less is a travesty of justice.”
If Obama continues tampering with the death penalty, I hope the Neimans’ words will ring in his ears. Let justice be served.
Your eyes on the Hill,