By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
In recognition of the 14th annual World Day Against the Death Penalty (October 10), the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) hosted a press conference at the state Capitol.
“The goal of this year’s World Day observance is to raise awareness around the application of the death penalty for terrorism related offenses and to reduce its use,” said Connie Johnson, OK-CADP Chair and head of the Say No to State Question 776 campaign, which will be on the November 8 ballot.
“Today we are on the brink of a vote whether to seal the death penalty into our constitution. Attorney General Scott Pruitt has called for the development of a nitrogen gas protocol in anticipation of using the death penalty when the moratorium expires.” she added.
“Horribly botched executions are the predictable consequence of the extreme secrecy surrounding Oklahoma’s execution practices,” Johnson stated. “Adopting a new untested method under the same shroud of secrecy will only increase the risk of more errors.
“This underscores the lack of need for State Question 776, which was enacted at the time that House Bill 1879 and SJR 31 were already passed.”
Sponsored by Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, H. B. 1879 says that if lethal injection is determined to be unconstitutional or becomes unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia. The next legal alternatives are electrocution and firing squad.
Senate Joint Resolution 31 authored by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, was the constitutional amendment passed April 2015, establishing validity of death penalty and methods of execution.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed HB 1879 following the infamous botched execution of Clayton Lockett, using a three-drug lethal injection protocol of midazolam, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. Lockett spent an excruciating 43 minutes suffering before being proclaimed dead, resulting in what has been called a ‘procedural disaster.’
Later it was learned that the state used the wrong drug, potassium acetate, not potassium chloride, to execute Charles Warner in January 2015.
Drawing international media attention, the fourth attempt to execute Richard Glossip on September 30, 2015, was put on hold after officials discovered the state had received the same incorrect drug for his execution.
Fallin, Pruitt and Christian all contend the use of nitrogen hypoxia is a ‘humane’ alternative to lethal injection
Jim Rowan, OK-CADP board member and Oklahoma County Public Defender believes the use of nitrogen hypoxia is a “knee jerk” response to the Glossip v. Gross 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled in a 5-4 decision that use of the three-drug protocol did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment.
“There will be lots of litigation on these new execution methods that have never been tried or vetted,” Rowan said, “There is no effective, painless way to execute anyone.”
A former pastor, Rep. George Young, (D-Oklahoma County) said, “Capitol punishment is government sanctioned murder. I respond to Cain’s question and say yes, I am my brother’s keeper. We ought to look beyond our own self interests of being tough on crime, and a movement to be elected to higher office.”
A Buddhist and member of the Soka Gakkai International USA – OKC Chapter, Diana Freeland said, “As one whose husband and mother in-law died the victims of murder, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capitol offences.”
Rabbi Emeritus A. David Packman of Temple B’Nai Israel, spoke of Mishnah teachings saying, “By surrounding the laws of capitol punishment with procedures that made it impossible to carry out, practically speaking, Judaism has abolished capitol punishment. I speak now urging the state of Oklahoma to refrain from capitol punishment and find more humane ways.”
Also urging Oklahomans to vote no on S.Q. 776 was Carla Darks, sister of Tyrone Peter Darks, who was executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma on January 13, 2004.
Patrick B. McGuigan, editor of The City Sentinel commented, “after decades of strong public support for the ultimate sanction, the Sooner State’s underlying conservatism has shifted toward a questioning posture.”
One survey found support for life without the possibility of parole. http://soonerpoll.com/news9newson6-more-oklahomans-oppose-death-penalty-if-given-alternative/
According to the Wall Street Journal, reduction in executions this year are due to “a dwindling supply of lethal drugs, a key U.S. Supreme Court decision and growing scrutiny of expert testimony and evidence.”
In May of this year a “scathing” multicounty grand jury report revealed a plethora of mistakes by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC). http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/courts/grand-jury-concludes-investigation-into-oklahoma-executions-judge-calls-out/article_00facf54-df5f-5b45-9715-1cb51ee27a8e.html
“I think the grand jury’s report should be appalling to Oklahomans,” said former Gov. Brad Henry, co-chairman of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, which will reveal its recommendations in February 2017.
Johnson believes the Glossip case is a major factor in the nation’s overall change of opinion towards the death penalty.
“This is one case in a lifetime that has come along and has totally flipped the message in Oklahoma,” Johnson said. “Basically we are indebted to Richard Glossip, a person who is potentially innocent and was scheduled to die, and to Oklahoma’s broken criminal justice system, in bringing us to have this conversation today.”