(First in a possible series on politics/ethics/crime/punishment. Further entries may be more or less drenched in “theory”)
And it accomplished exactly what it was meant to.
The state of Oklahoma decided that Clayton Lockett should die for his crimes.
Clayton Lockett is no more.
Clayton Lockett was guilty of what he was accused of. The facts: he shot Stephanie Neiman, he buried her alive. Clayton Lockett was a murderer.
Presented so succinctly, Clayton Lockett was a cold-blooded, inhuman monster, thoroughly deserving of the excruciating end he met. But, as it is said, context is everything.
The local news coverage concerning Clayton Lockett’s confession tape maintains the reptilian image; pretty, white female anchors describe how he coolly smoked a cigarette before shooting Stephanie Neiman with a shotgun; while he shoveled dirt on her while she still breathed. They say he described these events without showing the slightest hint of remorse.
The full confession tape diverts from the pretty, white narrative.
The facts are immutable: Clayton Lockett smoked before shooting Stephanie Neiman with a shotgun, before dirt was shoveled on her while she still breathed.
Adapted from Lockett’s confession:
Lockett, his cousin, and his best friend break into a man’s house to collect on a debt, by way of relieving this man of his television and other sundry household appliances. They assaulted him as he slept on his couch. Lockett hits him on the head with the barrel of his shotgun. The commotion wakes up the man’s infant child. Lockett prepares a bottle and calms the baby as they explain to the man that they are going to take his electronics. Two girls drive up to the house, one being Stephanie Neiman. The three assailants take them and hide their vehicle, and decide what to do next. Lockett suggests they strand them out in the countryside. His con-conspirators shoot him down, insisting they’ll still get caught.
“Let’s take them out to the country and kill them.”
It’s agreed upon. The gang of three bind and gag their victims, after asking if the man has a shovel. They drive to parts unknown.
On the drive, the man insists that he can’t die. He has to raise his child. Lockett, who had held said child intermittently throughout the night, secures the man’s promise that he won’t tell. He grants the man life.
The group comes to a field. Lockett informs his gang that the man is “cool”. The girl Lockett refers to as “the little girl” says she can’t die; she also has a child. The Little Girl swears she won’t tell.
The criminals accept the oaths of the man and The Little Girl. Stephanie Neiman swears no oath.
Lockett and his compatriots urge the man and The Little Girl to talk sense into Stephanie. Stephanie is unmoved. Lockett paces for a time, smoking cigarettes, preparing for what he thinks must be done. His accomplices dig the hole.
An inexperienced marksman, Lockett misses Stephanie with his first shot. The gun jumps from his hands. He picks up the weapon and fires again. She screams. She falls. He swears that Stephanie Neiman is dead. He hopes she is dead. They place her in the grave. Lockett’s friends question his certitude. Lockett sees a puff of dust from Stephanie Neiman’s mouth as she is committed to her final resting place.
Lockett was absolutely guilty of his crimes. He took the life of another human being. Over a few hundred dollars’ worth of consumer electronics. But, from his telling of the events, it was not quite the monstrous act described in the news reports. It was a heinous crime, but one fraught with anxiety, and inexplicable moments of compassion. The pacing, the nervous smoking of cigarettes; the care for a child (the child of Lockett’s debtor and enemy); the shotgun jumping from inexperienced hands. The murder of Stephanie Neiman was not committed out of malice, but fear. The chilling details of the crime were the result of incompetence, not bloodlust.
Is the state’s business the extermination of monsters? Was Clayton Lockett truly, irredeemably a monster?
Sean Hannity called Byron Smith a hero.