By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The World Day Against Death Penalty will be observed around the globe on October 10.
Created in 2003 by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and supported through more than 180 local worldwide initiatives, the 15th annual World Day Against the Death Penalty is held to raise awareness about the flaws of the death penalty and encourage its abolishment.
The World Coalition is comprised of 38 human rights organizations, local and regional authorities, bar associations, and trade unions.
According to the World Coalition website, the application of the death penalty is too often linked to poverty.
“Social and economic inequalities affect access to justice for those who are sentenced to death for several reasons: defendants may lack resources (social and economic, but also political power) to defend themselves and will in some cases be discriminated against because of their social status,” the site states.
Today, statistics show that the death penalty has become increasingly rare even in the United States.
Nineteen states in the U.S. have abolished the death penalty and only ten states have executed a criminal defendant in the past five years. Nine of these ten states were part of the Confederacy.
In spite of this recent trend, Oklahoma is an exception to the emerging moral consensus, according to Rev. Don Heath, Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) chair.
“The United States is swimming against the tide of worldwide moral consensus”, said Heath. “The United States is the only Western country that still inflicts the death penalty on its citizens.
“Abolition of the death penalty is a condition for entrance to the European Union, which consists of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe,” Heath added. “The United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that executed a criminal defendant in the last two years. Less than one third of the countries in the world still impose the death penalty.”
Other countries that still carry out the death penalty include Japan, China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Iraq.
In November 2016, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved State Question 776, which amended the Bill of Rights in Oklahoma’s Constitution to expressly provide that the death penalty shall not be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
A release sent by OK-CADP to The City Sentinel and others stated that Oklahoma has executed 112 human beings since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. This ranks third only to Texas, which has executed 543 people, and Virginia, which has killed 113. Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia together have executed more than one-half of the people executed since 1976.
“Why is Oklahoma so dead set on the death penalty? What is there about our heritage and our culture that places less value on human life?” Heath asks.
“The death penalty dehumanizes all of us,” Heath stated. “It says that it is morally acceptable to kill a defenseless person who has already been segregated from society and poses no threat to public safety.”
Heath also points out that prosecutors and politicians contend that the death penalty brings justice to the families of the victims.
“This is true only if you define justice as retribution,” Heath said.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that average cases without the death penalty cost $740,000 each, while cases where the death penalty is sought cost $1.26 million. Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in the general population.
But of all the reasons to abolish the death penalty, the fact that there are no “do-overs” should give pause to those implementing America’s deadliest punishment.
There have been 156 people exonerated from death row across America, including ten in Oklahoma.
In May 2016, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission Report was released in which co-chair former Gov. Brad Henry stated, “It is undeniable that innocent people have been sentenced to death in Oklahoma.”
Included at the end of the Commission’s report is a separate study entitled “Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides, 1990-2012,” which examines “the possibility that the race of the defendant and/or victim affects who ends up on death row (Report at 211, 214).
This study states that, in Oklahoma, criminal defendants – like death row inmate Julius Jones, who maintains his innocence – who are accused and convicted of killing white victims, are nearly two times more likely to receive a sentence of death than if the victim is nonwhite.
For homicides involving only male victims, a death sentence is approximately three times more likely in cases involving male victims when that victim is white, the report notes.
“Not only does this study illustrate that Julius faced a greater risk of execution by the mere happenstance that the victim who he was accused and convicted of killing was white (Petition at 13-15, 19-29), but we also argue that race operated invidiously throughout Julius’s case from the very earliest stages,” attorneys for Jones contend.
After decades of strong public support for the ultimate sanction, SoonerPoll, Oklahoma’s only independent, non-partisan pollster, found support for alternatives, including life without the possibility of parole.
There are currently 46 inmates on death row in Oklahoma. Sixteen of those have exhausted all of their appeals and are now eligible for execution dates when, and if, executions are resumed in Oklahoma.
The sixteen Oklahoma inmates are: Richard Eugene Glossip, John Marion Grant, Benjamin Robert Cole, Richard Stephen Fairchild, Jeremy Alan Williams, John Fitzgerald Hanson, Scott James Eizember, Jemaine Monteil Cannon, Phillip Dean Hancock, Julius Darius Jones, Anthony Castillo Sanchez, Shelton D. Jackson, James Chandler Ryder, Bigler Stouffer, Michael Smith and Richard Norman Rojem Jr.
Executions in Oklahoma have been on hold since September 30, 2015, when the wrong drug, potassium acetate – instead of potassium chloride – was almost used to execute Richard Glossip. State officials later confirmed that the same wrong drug had been used earlier to kill Charles Warner on Jan. 15, 2015.
A multicounty grand jury empaneled by former Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt, reviewed the drug mix-ups and made a series of recommendations last year about how the protocols should be revised.
The attorney general’s office has said that it will not request any execution dates until at least 150 days after the new protocols have been approved.
“The death penalty does not bring healing. It legitimizes vengeance,” said Heath. “I hope someday we can move beyond an eye for an eye.”