By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – On Tuesday, January 14, State Representative Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) introduced House Bill 2876 for consideration during the 2020 legislative session. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would remove the death penalty from among the options in Oklahoma for sentencing in capital cases.
“I’m proud to be a part of the important progress we’ve made toward criminal justice reform,” Dunnington said. “Oklahomans are becoming more aware of the wasted costs of capital punishment, a system that provides no deterrent to crime while flushing millions down the drain that could be better spent on responses to violence that actually work.”
The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City made the following statement in support of Dunnington’s bill:
“This is a bold proposal that addresses the disturbing realities and inequity of capital punishment,” Coakley said. “We don’t end the cycle of violence by committing more violence. In all of these crimes, we lost a life, and the death penalty only serves to further devalue human dignity. When available, we should choose non-lethal ways to ensure justice and protect society.”
Dunnington stated, “This is neither a partisan nor an ideological proposal. The profound problems with the death penalty are a concern for all Oklahomans, indeed for all Americans. That is why Republicans and Democrats from Alabama to Oregon are increasingly embracing the call for a repeal of the death penalty.”
In his press release, Dunnington listed the following primary objections to continue using the death penalty:
- For every 10 inmates executed on death row in the US since 1976, one inmate has been exonerated.
- The tax payer costs for incarceration for death row inmates is more than twice that of inmates with life sentences.
- There is no evidence that use of the death penalty is an effective deterrent.
- Families of victims routinely testify that executing the convicted offers little consolation for their pain and loss.
Regarding his legislation, Dunnington also posted on Twitter, “Ending the Death Penalty in Oklahoma is not only the fiscally responsible thing to do it’s the moral thing to do. Thankful for @ArchbishopOKC wisdom and support on this outdated form of punishment. Together may we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. #EndDeathPenaltyNow”
In November, Dunnington wrote a letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt in support of Oklahoma death row prisoner Julius Jones’ clemency application, filed in October. Jones was accused, tried and convicted for the July 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Scott Howell. Having served over 20 years on death row, Jones has always maintained his innocence.
The number of executions carried out in the United States dropped in 2019 and public support for the death penalty fell to nearly a five-decade low, according to a report released in December by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).
Twenty-two executions were carried out during the year, down from 25 in 2018.
Support for capital punishment dropped to a 47-year low as 60 percent of Americans told a Gallup poll they preferred life imprisonment over the death penalty. The last time the poll asked the question was in 2014, when 45 percent of Americans said they preferred life over the death penalty, the report said.
“2019 came close to being the year of executing the innocent,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC executive director, in the report. “Our courts and public officials too frequently flat out ignore potentially deadly mistakes, and often take steps to obstruct the truth.”
Oklahoma HB 2876 will be assigned for a committee hearing in February.