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May 4, 2014
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Publisher’s Notebook: Killer died an easier death than his victim

Clayton Lockett’s death made national news this week. The convicted killer apparently didn’t die the way the state of Oklahoma intended him to during a so-called botched execution and that was more than enough to qualify him as a Top 10 national news story last week.

We published that Associated Press story in our own paper Wednesday and it included a photo of Mr. Lockett, when he was still alive. The story itself was fairly long and detailed Lockett’s messy execution. He was supposed to die from a lethal injection, but the drugs put him into cardiac arrest and he died of a heart attack instead.

In the end, he died, so I’m not sure why they call it “botched.”

It sounds as if he was just supposed to doze off and never wake up.

The news account said he writhed a bit and “clenched his teeth” as the new drug that was supposed to kill him didn’t work because, according to officials, a ruptured vein screwed everything up.

The story went on to talk about the death penalty and how inhumane it is and that the governor of Oklahoma has suspended any further executions until they can determine how not to botch them up.

There wasn’t a single word about why Lockett was being executed in the first place, which is kind of odd, given what we are taught in Journalism 101 … you know … the who, where, when, what and why.

I can only assume the reporter didn’t want to talk about that because it might have made readers a little less sympathetic toward Lockett’s clenched teeth.

Not that I was sympathetic, mind you. I assumed Lockett must have done something pretty bad to be executed, because we don’t kill bank robbers, pedophiles or Wall Street crooks.

I also assumed that whatever Lockett did to be executed happened a LONG time ago because Death Row inmates generally die of old age well before we have a chance to kill them.

It didn’t take long to discover that Lockett was executed for killing a recent high school graduate named Stephanie Neiman and I could see why the reporter really didn’t want to share the details of her murder.

They are far worse than the details of Lockett’s botched execution.

According to one report, Stephanie Neiman was also executed. Fifteen years ago, in fact. She was taken to a deserted place by Lockett and his accomplice, raped and was forced to watch for 20 minutes as the accomplice dug her grave.

Then Lockett shot her with a 12-gauge shotgun.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Lockett’s shotgun jammed so he had to return to his truck and fix it, while Stephanie pleaded for her life from the makeshift grave. Lockett and his accomplice only laughed and then he shot her again, telling the accomplice to bury her.

Never mind that the accomplice told Lockett that the teen girl wasn’t dead yet. They buried her alive.

According to the story, Stephanie Neiman was an only child.

“Every day we are left with the horrific images of what the last hours of Stephanie’s life was like,” her parents told reporters. “We were left with an empty home full of memories and the deafening silence of the lack of life within its walls.”

Let’s flash ahead 15 years to Lockett inside the execution chamber and check some comparisons.

According to the Associated Press story, he was strapped to a gurney inside what I assume was a fairly clean room. Stephanie Neiman was forced to kneel, bound with duct tape, in the dirt, along a deserted road.

Lockett, according to reports, was unconscious initially, as the death drugs started to kick in. Stephanie Neiman was screaming for her life as her killer laughed and repaired his jammed shotgun.

When Lockett started to struggle, prison officials closed the curtain and then Lockett stopped breathing.

When Stephanie Neiman was shot a second time Lockett and his accomplice covered her with dirt — while she was still alive.

“It was a horrible thing to witness,” Lockett’s attorney told reporters, following the execution. “This was totally botched.”

Too bad there was no tape of Neiman’s murder to show Lockett’s attorney. If he thinks his client’s death was horrible to watch, it might change his perspective a bit.

And that’s the real trouble with the death penalty today. After 15 or 20 years we lose perspective. The victim is a distant memory, leaving us to focus on the killers and the humanity with which they should be dispatched.

Lockett’s botched execution gave fellow death row inmate Charles Warner a reprieve because he was supposed to be executed two hours later. All Warner did (16 years ago) was rape and murder an 11-month-old baby. The baby’s autopsy revealed a six-inch skull fracture, broken jaw, three broken ribs, bruised lungs and a lacerated liver and spleen.

Warner won’t be executed until Oklahoma completes a “full review of its execution procedures to determine what happened and why during (Lockett’s) execution.”

I already know what happened and why. Lockett died a better death than the young woman he murdered. He was able to do that because we don’t seem to have the stomach for dealing with monsters the way monsters should be dealt with.

It’s tough to fight horror with compassion.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.


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The News-Review Updated May 4, 2014 12:04AM Published May 4, 2014 12:34AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.