By Joseph Johnson

Around the time that Stephanie Neiman was beginning her senior year at Perry High School in Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett was being released from prison. He had been sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty in 1996 in Kay County to a charge of conspiracy to commit embezzlement.

Shortly after Stephanie received her high school diploma, their paths would cross.

On the evening of June 3, 1999, Stephanie climbed into her new Chevy pick-up to give a friend a ride to the Perry home of 23 year old Bobby Lee Bornt. Clayton Lockett, along with his cousin, 17 year old Alfonzo Lockett and 26 year old Shawn Mathis had already arrived at the Bornt home. Clayton Lockett was there to collect money that he was allegedly owed by Bornt. The three men tied Bornt up and began to beat him. Bornt’s 9-month old son was also present during the home invasion.

While the beating was taking place inside the home, Stephanie and her friend arrived at the residence, totally unaware of what was taking place behind its closed doors.

As Stephanie’s friend walked to the front door, it suddenly opened, and the 18 year old was drug inside; where she was hit in the face with a shotgun. Then, with the shotgun aimed at her head, she was forced to call Stephanie inside the home. At that point, Stephanie was also hit with the shotgun, suffering a cut near her left eye.

Lockett and his crew quickly bound the two young women with duct tape, before all three men took turns raping Stephanie’s friend. Then both women, along with Bornt and his son, were driven to rural Kay County; where the beatings continued. Along the way, Clayton Lockett informed the captives that he intended to kill them all.

Stephanie, bound in duct tape, received a particularly brutal beating. She continued to refuse to provide her assailants with the keys or the alarm code to her Chevy, or promise not to contact authorities if she was released. According to the survivors of the nightmare, Stephanie stood up to her captives until the very end.

For 20 long minutes, Stephanie and her friends watched as Shawn Mathis dug a shallow grave in a ditch beside the road. Clayton Lockett then led Stephanie to the ditch, aimed the shotgun and fired. When he went to fire a second time, the shotgun jammed. Lockett then returned to the truck, in order to fix the shotgun.

Meanwhile, Stephanie could be heard crying, “Oh God, please, please.” Lockett and his two accomplices could be heard laughing as to how “tough” Stephanie was. He then returned to the ditch and fired another round into Stephanie.

Clayton Lockett then ordered Mathis and the younger Lockett to bury her, despite the fact that Mathis informed him that Stephanie was still alive.

Bornt, his son and the other woman, were returned to the home, where the three assailants stole Bornt’s truck to make their get-a-way.

Fifteen years later, Clayton Lockett was led to the execution chamber at McAlester, OK to die for the murder of Stephanie Neiman. As has been reported on an almost continuous loop, something went “wrong” during the execution. The execution was halted, but Lockett later died of a massive heart attack.

Regardless of which side of the death penalty debate a person may find themselves on, we must never push aside the victim of a crime, in order to enhance our point of view.

Perhaps Stephanie Neiman and Clayton Lockett, in some strange way, are both victims. Careful examination of both of their fates might just produce a valid argument on both sides of the issue.

But this is, and always will be, about Stephanie. A beautiful young girl whose life was snuffed out by nothing less than a monster. I believe Clayton Lockett got off lucky, which is way more than he deserved. If there is a martyr to be formed from this mess, it is certainly not him.

My vote goes to Stephanie.