City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus Chair-elect Rep. George Young has given high praise to the recently released Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission report. Young thanked the bipartisan commission for its work reviewing Oklahoma’s death penalty process.
The commission, comprised of 11 members – both men and women from different political and career backgrounds – met for more than a year to evaluate every part of the state’s death penalty proceedings – from arrest to lethal injection.
At a press conference on April 25, commission co-chair former Governor Brad Henry announced that the group unanimously recommended the state continue its moratorium on capital punishment until “significant reforms are accomplished.”
“The Commission did not come to this decision lightly,” Henry stated. “Due to the volume and seriousness of the flaws in Oklahoma’s capital punishment system, Commission members recommend that the moratorium on executions be extended until significant reforms are accomplished.”
Co-chairs along with Henry are Reta Strubhar, a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. and an Assistant District Attorney of Canadian County, and Andy Lester, of the Spencer Fane law firm and a former U.S. Magistrate Judge for Western District of Oklahoma.
The commission also includes 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.
“These men and women conducted an exhaustive look at Oklahoma’s death penalty practices,” said Young, D-Oklahoma City. “I have been concerned about this state’s capital punishment protocol for a while now, and I cannot thank the commissioners enough for their dedication to reviewing this important subject.
“They spent hours poring over documents, interviewing experts and meeting with state officials, and the commission reached unanimous decisions that should not be taken lightly,” Young continued. “Commissioners found the state’s death penalty process has serious flaws and lacks resources and funding to be carried out effectively, accurately and humanely.”
The commission was created in partnership with the Constitution Project, a nonprofit think tank in the United States whose goal is to build bipartisan consensus on significant constitutional and legal questions.
In the nearly 300-page report was initiated by the Constitution Project, a nonprofit think tank whose goal is to build bipartisan consensus on significant constitutional and legal questions.
The report recommends 46 changes “to address systemic problems in key areas, including forensics, innocence protection, the execution process and the roles of the prosecution, defense counsel, jury and judiciary.”
The report reveals that competency standards for defendants eligible for the death penalty have not been updated in more than a century. Commissioners also found a state statute that “effectively allows for the execution of an inmate without a merits determination as to competence” as long as the warden does not question the defendant’s competency.
Commissioners recommend that the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board should include a more diverse panel. Recommendations also include creating recusal guidelines for the board as well as members participating in a “deliberative” discussion before voting on a clemency petition.
Many of the disturbing findings of the Commission’s investigation led its members to question whether the death penalty can ever be “administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death.”
During the commission’s press conference Henry stated “It is undeniable that innocent people have been sentenced to death in Oklahoma.”
Executions have been on hold in Oklahoma since October 2015 when the state attorney general’s office found the wrong drug was used in the January 2015 lethal injection of Charles Warner. The same “wrong drug” was also nearly used to execute Richard Glossip, Oklahoma’s next death row inmate in line for capital punishment.
Fourteen other Oklahoma inmates are ow awaiting execution dates following their appeals.
The death penalty has again come under national scrutiny with Arkansas’s attempt to execute 8 men in the period of only 10 days due to the expiration date of the lethal injection drugs on hand. After much legal wrangling, four Arkansas inmates were put to death last month as the controversy of the nation’s irreversible punishment continues to weigh on even pro-death penalty minds.
The release of the Commission’s report and the rush for a multiple execution in Arkansas, both coincide with the new documentary “Killing Richard Glossip.”
The four part docu-series, directed by Joe Berlinger, of “Paradise Lost” fame, reveals never before seen evidence pointing to Glossip‘s innocence.
As many states struggle to find a way to carry out America’s ultimate punishment, the Commission hopes this report will provide Oklahomans with the information and resources necessary to make “informed judgments about the state’s death penalty system.”
“This is heavy work, and the commissioners left no stone unturned when evaluating legal precedents and how they apply to Oklahoma’s practices. Few people would’ve been willing to spend days entrenched in capital punishment procedures, but it was a necessary and noble commitment,” said Young. “I urge the Department of Corrections and Attorney General Mike Hunter to take these recommendations seriously when moving forward with executions. It’s critical we do everything possible to ensure no innocent person is executed in our state.”
For more information, read the report here.