In the states in which it's practiced most often, the death penalty remains overwhelmingly popular. The Supreme Court seems uninterested in revisiting its core decisions on American capital punishment, preferring instead to tinker on the margins of the machinery of death. In many ways, its legal and constitutional footing has never been more secure. One state's determination to execute could change that. And paradoxically, it could be the ardor of the death penalty's proponents, not its detractors, that imperils its constitutionality.
Tonight, the state of Oklahoma plans to inject 500 milliliters of midazolam in Charles Warner's body to sedate him, followed by 100 milliliters of pancuronium bromide and 240 milliequivalents of potassium chloride to kill him. Sentenced to death in 1999 for the rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl two years earlier, Warner has spent almost two decades on death row. The state originally scheduled his execution for April 29 last year. Two inmates' executions were planned for that night. Clayton Lockett, who had been on death row since 2000, was to be executed first, and then Warner was to follow.
But Lockett's execution took a grisly turn. Witnesses later testified that the execution was "a bloody mess." While under sedation from midazolam, Lockett began moaning and writhing after being injected with the next two drugs in the cocktail. An improper IV placement had missed Lockett's femoral artery, pumping the cocktail directly into his leg and groin muscles. When the staff lifted the sheet (they had covered Lockett's groin to respect his dignity) and inspected the IV, they found blood and other fluids pooling there. Lockett died of a massive heart attack shortly thereafter. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin stayed Warner's execution in the aftermath; no executions have been performed in the state since then.