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Appeals court says botched Oklahoma execution not 'cruel' or 'inhumane'

By Doug G. Ware
Convicted killer Clayton Lockett, pictured, was put to death in April 2014 in a botched execution that generated criticism of Oklahoma prison officials and a lawsuit from the inmate's family alleging cruel and inhumane treatment, which is barred by the Eighth Amendment. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections/EPA/UPI
Convicted killer Clayton Lockett, pictured, was put to death in April 2014 in a botched execution that generated criticism of Oklahoma prison officials and a lawsuit from the inmate's family alleging cruel and inhumane treatment, which is barred by the Eighth Amendment. Photo courtesy Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections/EPA/UPI

DENVER, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court determined Wednesday that Oklahoma's infamously bungled execution of murderer Clayton Lockett two years ago did not amount to "cruel" or "inhumane" punishment -- treatment that's barred by the U.S. Constitution.

The three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver voted unanimously Wednesday that the lethal injection, though administered badly, was an unintentional and isolated incident -- qualifications that mean Oklahoma prison officials did not violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment."

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"Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution -- no matter how humane," the appellate court reasoned in its ruling, while acknowledging that Lockett did indeed suffer during his capital punishment on April 29, 2014.

The court's decision dismisses a lawsuit brought by Lockett's relatives, which claims Oklahoma's prisons department and a physician executioner were responsible for botching the 38-year-old inmate's death. A lower court in Oklahoma City also dismissed the lawsuit last year.

RELATED April 2014: Oklahoma inmate suffers fatal heart attack in botched execution

Lockett's estate claims in the lawsuit that the state violated the prisoner's rights by "experimenting" with an untested three-drug combination of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- and that unreliable trio directly led to his prolonged death, which inflicted pain and suffering for 43 minutes.

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The lower court, though, determined that Lockett had no constitutional right to a specific drug combination. Wednesday's ruling, which was based on a U.S. Supreme Court precedent case, upheld that decision.

Investigators ultimately concluded that it took so long for Lockett to die because the executioners failed to properly insert the intravenous drug line into his arm.

Lockett was executed for the 1999 death of an Oklahoma woman.

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