By Patrick B. McGuigan, editor
OKLAHOMA CITY – In coordination with a worldwide effort raising awareness of and in opposition to capital punishment, the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) has scheduled a Monday press conference at the state Capitol.
In a press release sent to this reporter and other journalists, Connie Johnson, OK-CADP chair said, “As the world moves together to protest the act of state killing, we are watching closely as Attorney General Scott Pruitt has recommended the development of a new execution protocol to kill the eleven death row inmates currently awaiting this horrific and indecent fate right here in Oklahoma.”
The event at the seat of Oklahoma government will take place Monday (October 10) at 10 a.m. in the fourth floor press room (432B). The timing coincides with the 14th annual “World Day Against the Death Penalty.” The global effort is held, according to OK-CADP, “to raise awareness of, and to oppose the use of, inhumane capital punishment and to support those who are fighting for its abolition all over the world.”
Speakers at the October 10 event will include Rabbi Emeritus A. David Packman of Temple B’Nai Israel. He and other speakers intend, OK-CADP said, “to counter the ‘humane’ use of the death penalty as is being touted by” state leaders, including Governor Mary Fallin, Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City.
Among other speakers: The Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches; State Rep. George Young, (D-Oklahoma City), Jim Rowan, OK-CADP board member and Oklahoma County Public Defender; and Don Heath, OK-CADP Vice Chair.
The first “World Day” was held under the auspices of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, a gathering of “38 human rights organizations, local and regional authorities, bar associations, and trade unions,” the OK-CADP release explained.
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 alternatives, including life without possibility of parole.
The OK-CADP release summarized some events in the progression of the weakening support, as well as countering political efforts to retain executions.
In 2015, Gov. Fallin signed House Bill 1879, sponsored by Rep. Christian, “following the infamous botched execution of Clayton Lockett, using a three-drug lethal injection protocol. 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 had used the wrong drug combination to execute Charles Warner in January 2015. One of the three drugs the state used was potassium acetate, not potassium chloride as called for in the existing protocol.
“The execution of Richard Glossip, scheduled for September 30, 2015, was put on hold after officials discovered that the state had received the same incorrect drug for his lethal injection.
“H.B.1879 says that if lethal injection is determined by courts to be unconstitutional or becomes unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia. Electrocution and firing squad are legal alternatives should nitrogen gas not be available or be held unconstitutional.”
Glossip remains on death row, his conviction in an alleged-murder-for-hire resting on the shifting testimony of the actual killer. That person has over the past two decades offered at least eight different versions of the murder of Barry Van Treese.
Multiple analysts, examining past and emerging new evidence, believe Glossip is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.
What many analysts called a “scathing” grand jury report, issued in May of this year, “revealed a series of mistakes by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC).”
Nonetheless, the DOC was charged with establishing a new protocol for lethal injections. In its report, the grand jury said the existing protocol should be changed, with verification and documentation at every stage of the execution process, if it is renewed.
Concerns about further executions in Oklahoma have arisen in varied corners.
Former Governor Brad Henry commented, “I think the grand jury’s report should be appalling to Oklahomans.” Gov. Henry is co-chairman of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, which is reviewing every part of the execution process. Its recommendations are anticipated in February 2017.
OK-CADP leaders noted, in this week’s press release, “The use of nitrogen gas is a response to the lethal injection drug shortage and a series of botched executions across the nation. No state has ever used nitrogen gas in an execution.”
Attorney General Pruitt has stated that nitrogen gas is “authorized by statute,” but he nonetheless believes “it will be challenged.”
Opponents increasingly argue that state-sponsored executions must be ended, in part because Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment – and events such as the deaths of Lockett and Warner violate that provision. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has championed this view.
OK-CADP is also opposing State Question 776 on the November statewide ballot. That measure by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, “would enshrine the death penalty into the Oklahoma Constitution,” the group says.
Johnson, herself a former state Senator, decried the Sykes measure for attempting “to place the state’s execution process beyond judicial review, removing the checks and balances system provided by the judiciary.” If passed, Johnson believes, the measure would trigger expensive court challenges, at unknown cost to taxpayers.
Heath, of the OK-CADP board, believes S.Q. 776 would amount to “turning the Bill of Rights inside out. The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect individuals from the state. This should scare people about state power, even if they support the death penalty.”
In 2015, according to international groups opposed to capital punishment, the top five “executioners” were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States.