President Barack Obama called for a Justice Department inquiry into the application of the death penalty nationwide after the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate Tuesday.
In his first public comments on the execution of Clayton Lockett, Obama called the grisly incident in which the convicted murderer convulsed violently and died of a heart attack 43 minutes after being given a lethal injection “deeply troubling.”
Obama said the death penalty is appropriate in some cases, including mass murder and child murder, but he said the use of executions often reflects racial bias, and pointed to the exonerations of death row inmates, the Associated Press reports.
“[T]his situation in Oklahoma I think just highlights some of the significant problems there,” he said.
Obama said he is asking Attorney General Eric Holder to analyze the death penalty’s application, and the Justice Department is reportedly examining how executions are carried out rather than issues of race and wrongful convictions.
The Justice Department announced it is placing a moratorium on federal executions while the investigation is underway.
Lockett was already a four-time felon when he was convicted of murder, rape, kidnapping and burglary in 2000. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has called for an investigation and a stay on the execution of Charles Warner, scheduled to be killed by the same drug cocktail that caused Lockett the apparent protracted suffering.
Some lawmakers flocked to defend the death penalty.
“I realize this may sound harsh,” said Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Christian, a Republican lawmaker who pushed to have state Supreme Court justices impeached for briefly halting Tuesday’s execution. “But as a father and former lawman, I really don’t care if it’s by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions.”
The White House implied on Wednesday that Lockett’s protracted death may have violated the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment established in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.