‘Botched’: Nets Fret Over Murderer’s Execution

Newscasts ignore Lockett’s victims.

Who’s the victim here: A man who beat, sodomized, shot and buried alive a 19-year-old girl or the deceased girl? What about her family? 

To judge by ABC, NBC and CBS, the victim is Clayton Lockett, who brutally killed Stephanie Neiman, kidnapped three more people and committed multiple other crimes, because his execution was botched. The lethal injection drug cocktail administered by the State of Oklahoma didn’t kill him immediately but took 40 minutes to do so. 

Non of the networks spoke with Neiman’s family or Lockett’s other victims, but instead interviewed anti-death penalty activists and even Lockett’s attorney. 

NBC was the worst of the three networks, featuring a parade of capital punishment opponents, from a death row inmate’s lawyer to a liberal college law professor, while showing images of anti-death penalty protesters. 

On the “Today” show April 30, Savannah Guthrie called the case “disturbing” and Correspondent Janet Shamlian reported on the “horrifying” eye-witness reports. In the same segment, anti-death penalty activist Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center declared the execution, “cruel,” “inhumane,” and “certainly not up to our standards of decency in this country.” 

Anchor Brian Williams introduced the “grisly” case on “Nightly News” later that day, as “raising new questions about the death penalty.” Justice Correspondent Pete Williams continued the segment by only giving airtime to Lockett’s sympathizers. 

Williams dutifully noted that “Some legal scholars say Oklahoma’s botched execution amounted to cruel and unusual punishment,” before turning to American University Law Professor Ira Robbins. “What we have here is scientific experimentation on human subjects,” Robbins said. 

Williams also interviewed Madeline Cohen, defense lawyer for Charles Warner, whose execution was scheduled for later the same night but was postponed after Lockett’s ordeal. “We need to know that the drugs will work like they’re supposed to,” Cohen said, “so that, our clients will not be subjected to a prolonged and torturous death.” Cohen’s client was convicted in 1999 of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child. While five of the broadcasts mentioned Warner’s execution was delayed, they only referred to him as “an inmate, not specifying his crime.

Only one broadcast even mentioned the victim’s families opinions on the case. On “Good Morning America” April 30, a statement from the victim’s family was read at the very end of the segment. 

Four broadcasts in two days hyped how this case was going to change public opinion on the morality of the death penalty. “Good Morning America” anchor Lara Spencer said on April 30 that the next story was “fueling new debate over the death penalty: a lethal injection went horribly wrong and was compared to torture.” Later that day on “ABC World News” Diane Sawyer told viewers about “The grim moment that turned up the volume in the national debate on the death penalty. An execution raising new questions about ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’” 

According to The Washington Post, Lockett – then already an ex-con – not only shot and buried Stephanie Neiman, but participated in beating and sexually assaulting her beforehand. Three other people were kidnapped that night as well and witnessed the attacks against Neiman, though their lives were spared. At his 1999 trial he was found guilty of  “Conspiracy, first-degree burglary, three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, three counts of forcible oral sodomy, four counts of first-degree rape, four counts of kidnapping and two counts of robbery by force and fear.”

That is the real cruel and unusual behavior.

— Kristine Marsh is Staff Writer for MRC Culture at the Media Research Center. Follow Kristine Marsh on Twitter.