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Best of Slow Journalism: The unusual and cruel execution of Clayton Lockett

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

At 5:06 am on 29th April 2014, correctional officers came to get Clayton Lockett from his cell in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. In 2000 Lockett had been convicted for murder, rape and kidnapping and he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. Fourteen hours later, at 7:06 pm, Lockett was pronounced dead. His execution had lasted 43 minutes and involved Lockett writhing and groaning on his gurney before a heart attack eventually took his life.

The botched execution of Clayton Lockett made headlines last year and added fuel to an already raging debate on lethal injections in the US. In the June 2015 issue of The Atlantic, Jeffrey E. Stern tells the full story behind the execution. He recounts how US prisons had been struggling to get their hands on the drugs required for lethal cocktails – a story which includes a London businessman selling wholesale drugs from a cupboard in the back of a driving school.

After that avenue was eventually shut down due to tighter export regulations, the attempts to acquire drugs got more desperate. One journalist found that Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections had bought its execution drugs with petty cash. Petty cash purchases for one such drug, pentobarbital, had totalled more than $50,000.

Stern also goes into the back story of Lockett, and attempts to uncover how the 38-year-old had become a man who district attorney Mark Gibson had come to believe was “pure evil”.

With striking detail, Stern describes what happened on 29th April 2014 and exposes all the elements behind Lockett’s botched execution. The fantastic long-form read is available here.

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