WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that the botched execution of an Oklahoma convict this week that left the man gasping and moaning before he died of a heart attack was “deeply troubling” and that he would ask the Justice Department to review the episode.
In his first public comments about the execution of the convict, Clayton D. Lockett, Obama said that the lethal injection procedure that failed to properly sedate Lockett added to other concerns the president had on the way capital punishment is conducted.
“The individual who was subject to the death penalty had committed heinous crimes, terrible crimes,” Obama said during a White House news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. “I’ve said in the past that there are certain circumstances in which a crime is so terrible that the application of the death penalty may be appropriate — mass killings, the killings of children.”
But beyond the question of whether faulty lethal injections amount to cruel and unusual punishment, Obama said other problems cited by human rights groups in the application of the death penalty also troubled him, including racial bias and prosecutorial errors that lead to the execution of innocent people.
“All of these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied,” Obama said. “And this situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the significant problems there.”
Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman in 1999 and burying her alive.
Obama said that he would discuss death penalty issues with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to determine steps that government might take to prevent errors in capital cases.
Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma has ordered a review of the state’s procedures for lethal injection.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement Friday saying that Lockett’s suffering might amount to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment according to international human rights law.” It called on the United States to impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty.