Could a lack of drugs kill the Death Penalty?

With many US States having trouble finding safe, reliable and relatively humane ways of executing people ... Could the death penalty in the United States be on its own death row? (Reuters/Jenevieve Robbins/Texas Dept of Criminal Justice)

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After this week's botched state execution in Oklahoma, attention turned to the issue of drugs for lethal injection. A European drug maker had refused to supply its product to the state for death row and officials had used a different drug. Could a pharmaceutical company change the death penalty conversation?

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Death row inmates Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett (L). On Tuesday, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of a
massive heart attack about 40 minutes after a botched execution attempt using lethal injection drugs. Charles
Warner's execution has been postponed. (Reuters/Oklahoma Department of Corrections/Handout)

"About 13 minutes into the execution, after he had been declared unconscious, the inmate began writhing in pain. His body was sort of bucking, he was clenching his jaw. Several times he mumbled phrases that were largely unintelligible. Several times his head and shoulders rose up off the gurney as if he was trying to get up off the gurney."

Journalist Ziva Branstetter, eyewitness at Oklahoma execution

The State of Oklahoma was determined to kill Clayton Lockett -- but it didn't plan to torment him to death. On Tuesday night, Mr. Lockett finally succumbed to a heart attack following a lethal injection. The execution of another condemned man, Charles Warner has been postponed following the botched job.

"It was like watching somebody be tortured. And that's the farthest thing from a constitutional execution that we can imagine. We just have to have an investigation and we have to have transparency in this process."

Madeleine Cohen, lawyer for Charles Warner

Oklahoma's been unable to obtain the lethal drugs it had used in past executions after the European Union banned exporting the drug to the US. So it came up with a new mix. But so far, no one seems to have found a reliable alternative. Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas have suspended executions because of the difficulty of getting the drugs.

  • Richard Dieter is the Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a not-for-profit group which is critical of the death penalty. We reached him just outside Washington, D.C.

Despite the gruesome outcome, many veteran watchers of the death penalty debate feel that one botched execution should not be the basis for a new policy on capital punishment.

  • Cully Stimson is a Senior Legal Fellow at the conservative think-tank, The Heritage Foundation. In his career he has worked as a defence lawyer and a prosecutor and even did a stint as a military judge. He was in Washington.

What are your thoughts of what the U.S. is going through on this debate on executions?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Gord Westmacott, Sujata Berry and Deanne Bender.

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