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April 30, 2014

McAlester priest calls fumbled execution "horrific"

OKLAHOMA CITY — A McAlester priest said last night’s botched execution sounded “horrific.”

While some local religious leaders chose not to speak out abou the first attempted double execution since 1936, Father Leonard Higgins of St. John’s Catholic Church in McAlester said he found the execution "troubling and disturbing"

Tuesday night at Oklahoma State Prison two men, Clayton Lockett and Charles F. Warner were set to be executed.

The first execution took a turn as condemned killer Lockett struggled and writhed on a gurney, until death came some 43 minutes later after an apparent heart attack.

The execution was halted after about 20 minutes due to an issue with the injection site, according to Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton.

Then after it appeared Lockett was unconscious from the first of three drugs, witnesses reported seeing him writhing on the gurney in the death chamber.

Lockett later died of a heart attack, prison officials said.

The second execution, that of Charles F. Warner, was stayed for two weeks after the botched execution of Lockett.

Meanwhile Father Higgins said the circumstances around Lockett’s execution “sounded horrific.”

“I found it all very troubling and disturbing,” Higgins said.

“For me its more personal, since I visit with these prisoners.”

Higgins said for the last 10 years, he has visited prisoners at OSP monthly, including those in the maximum security H unit.

He said finds visiting with the prisoners rewarding.

“It was intimidating at first, but now I enjoy it,” Higgins said.

The priest said that for many of the prisoners at OSP, he is the only visitor many of them have.

Higgins said some of the isolated prisoners within the H unit are discouraged.

“Some are accepting of their situation and some very discouraged at their situation,” Higgins said. “They know their families are unhappy with them and they live with that.”

“I just try to treat them with a lot of respect, and they seem to respond to that.”

The Catholic Church is against the death penalty, according to Higgins.

“The Catholic Church, has in recent times, developed an objection to the death penalty, due to our pro-life stance.”

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

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