By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY — State Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow), will host an interim study this week focusing on death penalty practices and procedures. The event will be presented before the House Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, October 14, from 9:30 a.m. to noon in Room 206 at the state Capitol.
Speaking on death penalty cases in Oklahoma will be: Don Knight, attorney for death row prisoner Richard Glossip; Craig Sutter, executive director of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS); Christy Sheppard, a member of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission; and Bob Ravitz, Chief Public Defender for the Oklahoma County Public Defenders office.
“I want to thank the members of the House Public Safety Committee for this opportunity to speak about the death penalty in Oklahoma and some of the issues that led to an innocent man, Richard Glossip, being wrongfully convicted and forced to spend the last 23 years of his life on Oklahoma’s death row,” said Knight.
In 2017, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, convened by The Constitution Project, released their report identifying major concerns with the death penalty system in the state.
“This bipartisan study is demonstrating that Oklahomans want to right the wrongs of the past, especially in light of the strong recommendations made for serious change published by the Blue Ribbon Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, in its review of the death penalty in Oklahoma in 2017,” Knight said.
“I hope that my appearance will help shine a light on new rules and procedures that will prevent wrongful convictions from occurring in the future, and to make sure that those wrongfully convicted in the past have a real chance to present new evidence of their innocence before it is too late,” Knight added.
At the time the commission’s report was released, former Oklahoma Governor, and Commission co-chair, Brad Henry stated “Our hope is for this report to foster an informed discussion among all Oklahomans about whether the death penalty can be implemented in a way that eliminates the unacceptable risk of executing the innocent, as well as the unacceptable risks of inconsistent, discriminatory and inhumane application of the death penalty.”
Patrick B. McGuigan, publisher of The City Sentinel, wrote, “ The report’s concluding chapter, on the execution process itself, amounts to a searing new indictment of the status quo ante, the state of affairs that existed before the state’s third attempt at execution of Glossip in the fall of 2015.
“Recommendations include limiting the execution protocol to the one-drug (barbituate) lethal injection, revision of the execution protocol to clarify responsibility and accountability within the Corrections Department’s chain of command, verification steps for each stage of the execution process, thorough training and evaluation for agency personnel, advance certification (from the agency director to the governor) of implementation of pre-execution steps, and advance notice to a condemned inmate of the drugs to be used in execution,” McGuigan wrote.
The 300 page report can be downloaded here.
Event speaker and one of the commission members, Sheppard, is the cousin of Debbie Carter, a woman killed in Ada in 1982. Two men, Ron Williamson, who was sentenced to death, and Dennis Fritz, were both convicted, but were later freed by DNA evidence.
Sheppard told reporter David Hendee of the Omaha World Herald that the guilt was “awful.”
“It is horrible to think that you prayed, wished, helped and condoned to bring harm to someone else and then to find out that it wasn’t deserved and later learn what they went through,” Sheppard recalled.
“We had lost all faith in the criminal justice system, in addition to the agonizing guilt that two innocent men had suffered,” Sheppard, now a victim’s advocate, told Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy. “For my aunt, Debbie’s mother, the death penalty had become a false promise.”
“We are grateful that Rep. McDugle and members of the Public Safety Committee will be looking at some of the serious issues surrounding the application of the death penalty,” said Dale Baich, one of the lawyers representing Oklahoma death row prisoner Julius Jones.
Jones’ case has garnered local and national attention regarding what his supporters believe is a wrongful conviction.
“We are confident that the work of the committee will be a continuation of the serious and fair review of the death penalty and its application in Oklahoma,” Baich said.
“There are examples the systemic failures identified by the Commission that occurred in the case of Julius Jones.
“Whether or not you support the death penalty, no one wants to execute someone who has been the victim of an unfair process or is actually innocent,” said Baich. “Our client Julius Jones is both.
“The question now is, will action be taken to give Julius a forum to finally present his side of the story,” Baich stated. “For that to happen, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board would need to not only grant Julius a commutation hearing, but also commit to a format where all the evidence in his case can be considered.
“My hope is that the Public Safety Committee can examine some of the steps needed to ensure Julius is treated fairly and given every opportunity to present evidence the jury never heard.”
Speaking on the future of the death penalty in Oklahoma will be Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, Oklahoma Department of Corrections director Scott Crow; Oklahoma District Attorneys Council chief executive officer, Trent Baggett; and Adam Luck, member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
“The majority of Oklahoman’s agree with having the death penalty as an option,” McDugle said. “I just want to make sure that when we start the death penalty again that we are properly trained and that each individual we put to death is guilty and deserving.
“Some of those on death row have new evidence in their cases since 2015, and we want to make sure all new evidence is looked at before we send someone to the chamber,” McDugle added.
McDugle represents District 12 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Wagoner County.
There are currently 47 inmates on Oklahoma’s death row.