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The politics of ‘killing a killer’

opinion by Maylon Rice

Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

Arkansas officials, and Governor Mike Beebe in particular, are watching the damage control and foot dragging for explanations coming out of nearby Oklahoma over the botched execution of a death row inmate last week.

While there are no easy answers to the death penalty issue. What occurred prior to, during and after the planned procedures in the death chamber at McAlester, Okla., last Tuesday night (April 29) must now be answered in the public arena. The details have to come out. It is not easy to relate all these details to the public, but the public has a right to know. And justice, has a right to be served, but within the law.

This entire matter of “killing a killer,” as a news event, has jumped from a back page, seven paragraph story to the front page of near all of the nation’s newspaper – and even to those newspapers, blogs, news outlets and electronic media around the world. And Oklahoma is in the new spotlight with a focused look on the process of state mandated lethal injections. There will be much examination and clarification of laws, rules and procedures to come – just watch.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is doing her best to explain this convoluted process of the state “killing a killer” by their approved and enacted laws. It is not, as we have stated before, an easy process to explain, especially when things go awry, as they apparently did last Tuesday, during the planned execution of a convicted killer.

To the state’s credit, Oklahoma prison and other state officials stopped the next scheduled execution of yet another death row inmate, on Tuesday night. However, with all the mistakes and botched lethal injection protocols, the end was accomplished as convicted killer, Clayton Lockett, died of an apparent heart related failure.

This entire mess of drug companies not wanting to manufacture or have their drug products used in state run executions of convicted felons is understandable from a business standpoint. Those who oppose the death penalty will go to great financial and public lengths to attempt to ruin such a legitimate business, which may also manufacture a wide range of drugs for health and wellness purposes. Even the attendants who prep the convicted inmate, inserting the IV lines which will ferry the fatal use of drugs and the physician who determines when the inmate has finally met death, usually want to be shielded from the public for fear of retribution and shame by those opposing the death penalty.

Often the only two people left in the spotlight of any public execution are the Governor and the prison warden. The warden is an employee of the state, often serving at the will of the Board of Corrections or the Governor. They are a lesser known state employee, often a long serving person in a job that most of us would rather not know or read that individuals name on a daily basis in our news gathering. It is the Governor, right or wrong, who is subject to the public’s vote, scrutiny and criticism.

Arkansas Gov. Beebe – who has served as a practicing attorney, 20 years as a State Senator, another four years as the state’s Attorney General, and now in the twilight of his eight years as Governor – has said he is “uncomfortable” with the death penalty.

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He’s never had to make the call for an execution while governor. And we sense, from Beebe’s remarks, he would rather not make that call as the state’s Governor.

After last Tuesday night’s mess in Oklahoma we can certainly see why.

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