On June 29, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States of America held, in Glossip v. Gross, that the State of Oklahoma’s protocol for the execution of death row inmates was constitutional. The challenge was brought by 3 death row inmates (“petitioners”) in the wake of the “Lockett” execution. Clayton Lockett was executed by lethal injection. The drugs administered to bring about his execution initially failed. Apparently unconscious, he awoke, wrestling against the restraints that had been applied, stating “this shit is fucking with my mind” and “the drugs aren’t working”. The state executioners then lowered the blinds and allegedly halted the execution, yet 10 minutes later, 40 minutes after the execution began, Lockett was pronounced dead.


Justice Samuel Alito wrote the Court’s rather caustic controlling opinion. He essentially held that the state has no obligation to develop a protocol ensuring a painless death, and that further, the 3 death row inmates had failed to show that a better alternative existed. It seems inconceivable to charge a condemned person with the responsibility of showing that there exists a more humane way to bring it about. It seems inconceivable that a society claiming to be civilized would have any confidence in any “death protocol” given compelling evidence of botched executions.


Justice Alito went to great pains to provide the facts of the murders the 3 petitioners had committed. They are chilling indeed, but not as chilling as the spectre of a court condoning a violent death associated with a state-sponsored execution. There is an alternative. Life imprisonment is enough.