‘Death row stories’

During a lengthy interview with the cable network for the show taped earlier this year, I discussed what it was like to witness last year’s execution of Clayton Lockett, which the courts have called a “procedural disaster.”

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The upcoming execution of Richard Glossip sparked a Twitter war recently between a famous nun, an even more famous actress and Gov. Mary Fallin’s spokesman.

Sister Helen Prejean and actress Susan Sarandon took to the Twitter-verse last week, calling on Fallin to grant Richard Glossip a reprieve from his Sept. 16 execution date. Both the nun — whose story was portrayed in the movie “Dead Man Walking”— and Sarandon— who portrayed Prejean in the movie— are noted death penalty opponents.

The two were responding to a series of Tweets by Fallin’s spokesman, Alex Weintz, about Glossip’s upcoming execution:

Sarandon and Sister Helen fired back:

They continue to seek signatures on a petition for Glossip, asking Fallin for a reprieve so evidence of his alleged innocence can be gathered.

Both believe Glossip is innocent of the crime for which he is scheduled to be executed, the murder of motel owner Barry Van Treese. Glossip, who managed and lived in the motel, was convicted of paying a teen-aged co-worker to murder Van Treese.

Justin Sneed testified that Glossip offered him $10,000 to kill Van Treese, who reportedly told others he suspected Glossip of embezzlement and mismanagement. Read our story detailing the case and arguments for and against Glossip here.

It’s against this backdrop that a CNN television series, “Death Row Stories,” about the death penalty kicked off Sunday night at 9 p.m. CNN interviewed me for the series, which includes an episode about botched executions.

Here’s an excerpt from the show, which covered botched executions in Ohio, Arizona and Oklahoma.

During a lengthy interview with the cable network for the show taped earlier this year, I discussed what it was like to witness last year’s execution of Clayton Lockett, which the courts have called a “procedural disaster.”

As is well known by now, a doctor declared Lockett unconscious during his April 29, 2014, execution before Lockett spent several minutes writhing and grimacing on the gurney and the shades were closed.

I discussed CNN’s interview request with my editors at the World, where I worked until late April, as I did all other interview requests about the execution.

We decided I would participate with the understanding that I would discuss my thoughts about what I had seen as a journalist who witnessed the execution. I also planned to discuss what Cary Aspinwall and I had uncovered in our subsequent investigation of Lockett’s execution and how the state carries out the death penalty. I did both, including giving my opinion as an observer that Lockett appeared to be in pain during the execution.

I was a bit surprised when I heard the promotional ad for Sunday’s episode featuring Sarandon as narrator. By choosing someone so clearly opposed to the death penalty to narrate the segment, CNN is leaning toward advocacy in my view. That’s their editorial choice of course, but I would have appreciated knowing this in advance.

Following the Lockett execution, Cary and I wrote dozens of stories about the state’s failure to prepare for a high-stakes double execution hours apart using an unproven drug on a notoriously uncooperative inmate. (What could go wrong?)

Adding to the recipe for error is a process shrouded in so much secrecy that the investigating agency didn’t want to make a copy of the execution doctor’s license. For the record, the doctor was a “third choice” physician who didn’t think he’d have to do anything other than declare death. He didn’t ask the prison to stop the execution even after he discovered it lacked properly sized needles.

I’m proud of our work on the death penalty in Oklahoma and that it was recognized as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting.

I’m also appreciative that the Tulsa World joined me in a lawsuit funded by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press over records that Fallin has yet to release related to the execution, more than 15 months later.

The lawsuit is moving towards depositions of key officials in Fallin’s office, which will allow us to find out more about how the governor’s office responds to open records requests. We also hope to learn the reasons why attorneys blacked out hundreds of sentences and dozens of pages in interview transcripts related to the execution.

The process could produce some interesting results, as this administration has received state and national recognition for its lack of transparency.

While some people took issue with our continued focus on what went wrong during Lockett’s execution — including Attorney General Scott Pruitt during a visit to our publisher at the World — we felt it was vital to tell the truth no matter how inconvenient. That shouldn’t be confused with advocacy or opposition to the death penalty.

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