A group of prominent Oklahomans have joined together to form a blue-ribbon, bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission. The Commission will conduct what a press statement called “the first-ever independent, objective and thorough review of the state’s entire capital punishment system.”
“Oklahoma has an opportunity to lead the nation by being the first state to conduct extensive research on its entire death penalty process, beginning with an arrest that could lead to an execution,” said former Gov. Brad Henry, of Henry-Adams Companies, LLC, one of the group’s co-chairs.
“The Commission includes distinguished Oklahomans with differing views and perspectives on capital punishment who are donating their time to work together on a research-driven review,” he said.
Joining Gov. Henry as co-chairs are Reta Strubhar, a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (1993-2004) and an Assistant District Attorney of Canadian County (1982-1984); and Andy Lester, of the Spencer Fane law firm and a former U.S. Magistrate Judge for Western District of Oklahoma who served on President Ronald Reagan’s Transition team for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (1980-1981).
Members of the Commission have experience in a variety of aspects of the capital punishment system, including victim advocacy, policymaking, prosecution, defense, and judging. They also include leading lawyers, business leaders, and scholars.
In addition to the co-chairs, the members are Robert H. Alexander, Jr., of The Law Office of Robert H. Alexander, Jr.; Howard Barnett, President of OSU-Tulsa; Dean Andrew Coats, Dean Emeritus of OU College of Law; Dean Valerie Couch, Oklahoma City University School of Law; Maria Kolar, Assistant Professor of OU College of Law; Christy Sheppard, a victims’ advocate; Kris Steele, Director of The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) and former Speaker of the House; and Gena Timberman, founder of The Luksi Group.
“Our goal is to provide a resource for Oklahomans to allow them to make informed judgments about our state’s capital punishment system that, we hope, will benefit both Oklahoma and the country as a whole,” said Henry.
Patrick B. McGuigan, editor and publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper, and founder of CapitolBeatOK.com, an online news organization, issued this statement in response to the news this afternoon:
“I applaud the establishment of a bipartisan group to study Oklahoma’s death penalty process. Qualified and distinguished people have agreed to study the process, which has been not only controversial, but divisive in recent years. There should be no more executions in our state until this group of citizens is finished with their vital work. The moratorium that has been in place for several months should stay in place. Oklahomans of all perspectives and philosophies will support the work of this group.”
According to a report by Cross, the group was formed by The Constitution Project, a national nonpartisan nonprofit group that provides public policy research. They approached Governor Henry about being one of the co-chairs of a research-based review of capital punishment in Oklahoma.
The commission is expected to issue a report early in 2017.
Monday evening, McGuigan added the following appeal to his original statement: “I pray for Governor Mary Fallin and all other statewide elected officials — and members of the Oklahoma Legislature in both political parties — to support the work of the Death Penalty Review Commission.
“After the events of the last two years and unresolved issues from troubles at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and in the Department of Corrections, there should be no more state-sanctioned killings for the foreseeable future, if ever.
“In additions to concerns over failures in the drug protocols and other aspects of this process, there is not only doubt, but also unresolved questions — including witnesses never heard in a court of law — in the case of Richard Glossip. Justice demands deliberation and patience, now more than ever.”
McGuigan is the author of three books and editor of seven, most of them on legal policy issues, including Crime and Punishment in Modern America (1986).