On April 29, a death row inmate in Oklahoma died of a heart attack after a botched execution. At age 23 Clayton D. Lockett was convicted of murder and had been on death row for 15 years. During his recent execution, shortly after the anesthetic drugs were administered, Mr. Lockett began to writhe in extreme pain and died shortly after. The drug mixture used to execute him was not wholly administered due to a vein failure. His death has raised serious questions about the humane nature of capital punishment and following Mr. Lockett’s death President Obama indicated that the U.S. Department of Justice would begin a review into capital punishment in America. Mr. Lockett’s death has provoked all of us into an overdue conversation on the merits of the death penalty.
For years research has indicated that there is a disturbing racial bias when deciding who gets sentenced to the death penalty. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Statistics there were 3,082 death row inmates in 2011 and more than half of them were African American or Hispanic. African Americans and Hispanics only make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population, but more than half of prison inmates on death row. There is significant evidence that suggest jurists are more likely to sentence minority offenders to the death penalty than white offenders. A Michigan State University review of North Carolina’s court system found evidence that African-American’s were systematically excluded from juries determining sentences for convicts eligible for capital punishment. They found that qualified black jurors were twice more likely to be removed from juries than whites. In addition, the review found that individuals who committed crimes against whites were more likely to receive the death penalty. More than 80 percent of executions in North Carolina involved white murder victims.