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Anti death penalty group holds symposium in Oklahoma City

By Darla Shelden
Contributing Writer

The Perspectives on the Death Penalty Symposium was recently held at the Crown Heights Christian Church in Oklahoma City. The purpose was to raise public awareness, education and involvement in the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OCADP).

The Oklahoma Conference of Churches and Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty sponsored the event.
Lydia Polley, OCADP Co-Chair said, “Facts such as the verified execution in the United States of several who were innocent, the outrageous cost of prosecuting & incarcerating capital cases, the extensive time that many inmates spend on U.S death rows, and the doubts raised about the entire system providing equitable justice highlights the serious need for public awareness and civil dialogue about the Death Penalty.“

The panelist included: Rick Sitzman, retired Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney; Mark Henricksen, Criminal Defense Attorney; Jannie Coverdale, grandmother of two killed in the Murrah Building bombing; Dr. Jihad Ahmad, Imam; Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City and Rev. Loyce Newton Edwards.

Boston Snowden of the Buddhist Faith moderated the event.

The OCADP strives to mobilize Oklahoma citizens and elected officials to support abolition of the death penalty.
“On death row, prisoners never see sunlight. Oklahoma has the most severe death row, or death dungeon, because we buried it underground. Prisoners are in total isolation 23 hours a day 5 days a week and 24 hours a day the other two days of the week,” said Polley.

Oklahoma City attorney Mark Henricksen was recognized by the OCADP as Abolitionist of the Year in 2005 because of his success in reversing death penalties.

Henricksen said, “Many opponents of the death penalty do so out of religious onviction. That argument does not seem to be getting the death penalty abolished. When citizens are taught that the death penalty is an enormously more expensive punishment than housing someone for fifty years, minds begin to change.”

In New Jersey, which halted executions in 2007, a commission found that switching a single condemned inmate’s sentence to life without parole would save the state $1.3 million in incarceration costs alone, because death-row inmates receive special housing and security.

“My own opposition came only after I handled several cases, and saw that as a matter of due process, the system was flawed, tending to punish the poor and excusing the rich; imposing a greater punishment on people of color and certainly on people whose victims were white. Aw a lawyer, I was appalled at the competitive lengths the government was often willing to go in order to secure the execution of some of society’s weakest members, said Henricksen.

Rev. Loyce Newton Edwards of Oklahoma City said, “The imposition of the death penalty in Oklahoma is an egregious injustice, arbitrarily inflicted on blacks, browns and the poor. As people of faith, we must stand up and speak out about why the death penalty is so very wrong. We can then do the healing work that brings our communities together, embracing restorative justice, and rejecting retributive justice.”
Panelist Jannie Coverdale’s two small grandsons, Aaron and Elijah, died in the April 19, 1995, bombing. She is now on the board of the OCADP.

There are 34 states with the death penalty. From 1976 to 2011 there have been 1273 executions with 35% black, 56% white, 7% Hispanic and 2 % other ethnicities.
Lydia Polley said, “There have been 138 death penalty exonerations in the U.S. and in Oklahoma, we have exonerated 10 people from death row.”

Many experts reject the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.

“I’m not an advocate for the death penalty, nor am I an opponent, “ said former Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney Rick Sitzman. “My experience in the last 30 years from what I have seen personally and observed through the media and through word of mouth and other ways, I believe there’s been a relatively fair and decent implementation of the death penalty as it currently exists in Oklahoma.”
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty believes that Gandhi had it right when he said that “An Eye for an Eye Leaves the Whole World Blind.” They ask: “Why do people kill people for killing people to show that killing people is wrong?”

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