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Lawmakers say they won't abandon death penalty

DALLAS — A bungled execution in Oklahoma in which the condemned prisoner writhed and moaned as he received a lethal injection outraged death-penalty opponents, invited court challenges and attracted worldwide attention.

But the inmate's agony alone is highly unlikely to change minds about capital punishment in the nation's most active death-penalty states, where lawmakers say there is little political will to move against lethal injections — and a single execution gone wrong won't change that.

Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian, a Republican lawmaker who pushed to have state Supreme Court justices impeached for briefly halting Tuesday's execution, was unsparing.

"I realize this may sound harsh," Christian said, "but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."

Attorneys for death-row inmates hope Tuesday's spectacle provides new evidence to argue that the injections are inhumane and illegal. But beyond the courtroom, support for capital punishment is undeterred in the states that perform the greatest number of executions — Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio. And nowhere in those places are any elected officials of either political party talking seriously about using the incident to seek an end to executions.

Missouri Rep. Paul Fitzwater, a Republican who chairs the state House's corrections committee, called the botched execution "horrible" and "definitely not humane" but said it had not sparked any calls for reform.

Oklahoma prison officials say Tuesday's execution of Clayton Lockett went awry when an intravenous line of drugs became dislodged. He later died of an apparent heart attack. Lock­ett had been condemned for shooting a 19-year-old girl with a sawed-off shotgun and watching as two accomplices buried her alive.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has stayed a forthcoming execution as prison officials investigate, but she too reaffirmed her support for capital punishment.

On Friday, President Barack Obama said the Oklahoma event highlighted problems with the death penalty and he's asking his attorney general for a review.

National surveys by Gallup indicate that support for the death penalty remains strong, though it has declined over the past 20 years, from 80 percent in favor of capital punishment in 1992 to 60 percent two years ago.

There are signs of a shift, primarily in the West and Northeast, after almost four decades in which no state legislatures voted to end executions.

Five states — New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland — have formally abolished the death penalty in the past seven years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. New York's death penalty was abolished by a court, and several other states have placed executions on hold. An antideath-penalty bill in New Hampshire fell one vote short of passage.

Clayton Lockett’s execution on Tuesday went awry when drug-carrying lines became dislodged.

Clayton Lockett’s execution on Tuesday went awry when drug-carrying lines became dislodged.

Lawmakers say they won't abandon death penalty 05/03/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 3, 2014 11:34pm]
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