2017-04-30 20:46:01 UTC
Execution moratorium remains the right move for Oklahoma
As 1 of the 11 members of the bipartisan, independent Oklahoma Death Penalty
Review Commission, I stand firmly behind our unanimous recommendation to
continue the current moratorium on executions in Oklahoma.
In October 2015, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, at the request of the
Oklahoma attorney general, granted an indefinite suspension on executions in
the state. In requesting this course of action, the attorney general stated
that all Oklahomans deserve to know with certainty that the system is working
as intended. I could not agree more. Indeed, we know from a grand jury report
last year that the execution procedure was plagued by a number of troubling
practices and is currently being evaluated by the Department of Corrections. We
felt it important to look beyond the execution process to assess the state of
the entire death penalty process in Oklahoma.
The commission is composed of former elected officials, business leaders, a
judge, a former prosecutor, scholars and victim advocates. Some of us support
and others oppose the death penalty. All of us believe that the government owes
it to Oklahomans to ensure that the capital punishment system is fair,
consistent and follows the law. We also care deeply about justice for victims
and their families, as well as ensuring that Oklahoma does not risk executing
an innocent person.
Over the course of a year, we investigated, deliberated, held lengthy meetings,
and met with prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims and other stakeholders.
These discussions were critical to our understanding of the state's death
penalty system and resulted in the 46 findings and recommendations in our final
report. We hope the commission's findings help inform policymakers and
constituents alike and contribute to our state taking a serious look at what
can be done to ensure justice when we consider imposing an irrevocable
punishment like the death penalty.
There is no shortage of resources and opinions on this subject. To digest all
of the available information was challenging and at times overwhelming - but
also vital to our mission. It is our intention the findings and recommendations
of the commission, which touch upon every aspect from law enforcement and
defense practices to the execution process, will serve as a guide for all of
us. My fellow commission members and I stand ready to share our experience and
information to help Oklahomans process and, we hope, support our
The work of the commission is only the beginning, and completing the task of
implementing these recommendations will require focus and dedication. However,
we must embrace this endeavor so future generations can confidently say our
system of justice protects the innocent, ensures fairness, and upholds the law.
Until Oklahoma can guarantee justice for all, we must maintain the current
(source: Kris Steele is chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and
former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives----The Oklahoman)
Costly death penalty cases strain state resources, report says
A report released last week on Oklahoma's death penalty practices has a
succinct view when it comes to costs: "It is a simple fact that seeking the
death penalty is more expensive."
Case-level costs for death penalty proceedings run about $700,000 more on
average than instances in which prosecutors don't seek capital punishment
because of issues such as increased pretrial and post-conviction incarceration
terms, expenses for additional attorneys and lengthy appeals, according to the
Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission's report released Tuesday.
The 11-member bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission announced 46
recommendations for multiple agencies that it said would significantly improve
how the state carries out executions. Although the commission\'s
recommendations aren't legally binding, former Gov. Brad Henry - who led the
group - said it is clear there are "serious flaws" in how Oklahoma handles such
As part of its work, the commission did an independent study to determine how
much it costs to take a death penalty case to trial and what additional costs
are incurred after someone receives a death sentence.
It costs just more than 1 1/2 times the amount to incarcerate a capital
defendant before trial, because they typically stay in jail for a longer term.
Once the person is transferred to prison after being sentenced, it costs almost
twice as much per day to house a death row inmate compared to other inmates.
Prosecutors spend about three times more on death penalty proceedings, while
defense teams spend nearly 10 times more, according to the report. Appellate
proceedings after a death sentence is imposed cost about 5 times more than the
same proceedings for a defendant not on death row.
It all adds up to the conclusion that handling death penalty cases is more
expensive. The commissioners wrote. "There is not one credible study to our
knowledge that presents evidence to the contrary."
But remedying the issue could prove difficult, the commission noted, because it
is unclear whether policyholders can implement the recommendations in the
report due to the state's budget constraints and "the overall economic climate
regarding its criminal justice system."
"If you look at the various defense counsel organizations, whether it's (the
Oklahoma Indigent Defense System) or Oklahoma County or Tulsa County public
defenders, they are just overwhelmed with felony cases," Henry said Tuesday.
"They don't have enough attorneys. They don't have the funding that they need,
especially in death-penalty cases, to hire investigators (or) to hire experts.
"You have to decide whether you want to pay to do it right, and either you do
or you don't."
Death penalty decline
In addition to financial issues, the commission looked in-depth at practices in
Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. Tulsa County hasn't had a capital case in about 10
years, and District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler decided in 2015 not to pursue the
death penalty against Michael Browning, whose death sentence for a conviction
in a 2001 double murder case was overturned on appeal.
Browning is set for a new jury trial this summer.
Kunzweiler, according to the report, has a formal death penalty review team
composed of multiple senior attorneys who review all decisions on whether to
seek such a sentence. He told the commission he also solicits mitigation
evidence from death row-eligible defendants' defense attorneys and invites them
to present it before he decides whether to file a bill of particulars - a
formal notice of his intent to try the case as a capital case.
Chief Public Defender Rob Nigh reported to the commission that his office
assigns 2 attorneys to all homicide cases and also adds a mitigation specialist
to the team if there is a chance the death penalty is at issue. Nigh has
previously told the Tulsa World about concerns he has with the use of the death
penalty as well as life without parole sentences, a large part of which is the
The death penalty appeared to be on the table last year for Robert Bever, now
20, who was charged with 5 counts of 1st-degree murder for stabbing his parents
and 3 of his siblings. Bever pleaded guilty in August and received 5
consecutive life without parole sentences, as well as a 6th life term for an
assault against his oldest sister who survived.
At the time, Kunzweiler said he did not want the surviving family members to go
through the process of a death penalty trial, which inevitably results in
multiple appeals at the state and federal levels after a conviction and
AG called cavalier
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said Wednesday that the state will move
forward with executions once the Department of Corrections finalizes its lethal
injection protocol despite the commission saying the moratorium in effect
should continue. DOC spokesman Mark Myers said Friday that the protocol is
still in the works and declined to comment further, although Hunter said he is
hopeful it will be released soon.
Former Attorney General Scott Pruitt requested an indefinite stay of executions
Oct. 1, 2015, after learning that prison staff obtained the wrong drug for
Richard Glossip's execution. Potassium acetate, the drug at issue, was the same
one incorrectly used on Charles Warner during his January 2015 execution.
The commission began its work around the same time, as did a multicounty grand
jury, which released a blistering more than 100-page report last May outlining
issues with the DOC's handling of both cases. The commission's work looked at
the DOC's policies but also evaluated capital punishment from initial arrest to
the date someone is executed.
1 of Glossip's federal defense attorneys, Dale Baich, said Friday that he is
concerned about Hunter "cavalierly" dismissing the recommendations of the
commission, which worked for about 18 months to compile a look at how Oklahoma
operates. Glossip is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the
constitutionality of lethal injection drugs.
"I'm disappointed that the attorney general reacted so quickly and dismissed
the recommendations by the commission," Baich said. "The members all said they
were disturbed and questioned whether the death penalty can be administered
Baich has made the DOC's difficulties in finding drugs a key issue throughout
the federal litigation, and said he agrees with the commission's conclusion
that a 1-drug barbiturate is the best choice. The commission also recommended
that inmates receive notification of the drug the DOC will use at least 20 days
before their execution dates.
"If the protocol goes beyond that, we'll just have to litigate those issues in
the courts," Baich said, referencing the DOC's upcoming policy.
When asked about the report's other findings, he said, "I think it's a really
solid outline for people to use in order to have a fair and honest discussion
about whether the death penalty is sound public policy or if it should be
abolished. If it remains, there are serious recommendations that need to be
adopted before the state should go forward in carrying out executions."
(source: Tulsa World)
Time drags on at Death Row, USP Terre Haute----Dylann Roof latest inmate, but
feds haven't executed anyone since 2004
Dylann Roof - the newest and youngest inmate housed on federal death row - now
waits with 51 others sentenced to die by lethal injection at the U.S.
Penitentiary in Terre Haute.
Roof - the 23-year-old gunman convicted of killing 9 members of a Bible study
group at a South Carolina church in 2015 - was moved to the maximum security
federal prison on April 21.
In a month when the state of Arkansas has executed 4 condemned inmates on an
accelerated schedule because the state's lethal-injection drugs were about to
expire, the wait on federal death row shows no signs of ending soon.
It's been about 14 years since the last federal execution was carried out. A
federal moratorium has put the lethal injection process in limbo since 2004,
pending a Justice Department review after a series of botched state executions
blamed on faulty drugs.
Roof is the 1st person sentenced to death under the federal Shepard/Byrd Hate
Crimes Act. He was convicted in December of killing 9 people and wounding 3
others when he went to a midweek Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in
Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, and opened fire with a
A white supremacist, Roof told investigators he was hoping to start a race war
in America. He has also pleaded guilty to 9 counts of murder in a South
Carolina court and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The state
conviction essentially serves as a back-up in case the federal trial verdict is
Federal inmates with death sentences are usually housed in a "Special
Confinement Unit" established at the Terre Haute penitentiary by the Bureau of
Prisons in the 1990s.
Not all at Terre Haute
3 inmates have been executed at USP Terre Haute since then - Oklahoma City
bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001, drug kingpin Juan Raul Garza in 2001 and
murderer/rapist Louis Jones Jr. in 2003. The moratorium went into effect the
In addition to the 52 inmates housed on death row in Terre Haute, 5 other
people with death sentences are being housed at other federal facilities. They
will ultimately be transferred to the Terre Haute USP if their execution is to
be carried out.
3 of those inmates are housed at the federal Administrative Maximum Facility
(ADX), the federal prison system's super-maximum-security penitentiary in
Among those at ADX are Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was 21
when he was convicted of 30 counts related to the bombing plot instigated by
his older brother, Tamerlan.
17 of those 30 counts carried a possible death sentence. The younger Tsarnaev
was found guilty of conspiring and detonating weapons of mass destruction at a
public event as an act of terrorism resulting in death. Tsarnaev will turn 24
in July. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died April 19, 2013, from wounds suffered during a
chase and shootout with police.
Also at Florence is Kaboni Savage, 42, and Joseph Ebron, 38.
Savage was sentenced to death in 2013 for orchestrating 12 murders in relation
to drug crimes. Ebron was sentenced in 2009 for murdering a fellow inmate at a
federal prison in Texas.
Lisa M. Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, is housed at Carswell
federal medical center in northern Texas. She was sentenced in 2007 for the
kidnapping and murder of a pregnant woman, whose unborn baby she then took and
claimed as her own.
Condemned inmate Robert Bolden, 53, is being held at Springfield, Mo., federal
medical center. He was sentenced in 2004 for killing a bank security guard
during an attempted robbery in St. Louis.
The halt on federal executions and ongoing Justice Department review of lethal
injection protocols came after a number of botched state executions in which
some lethal drug combinations failed to anesthetize inmates, causing inmates to
scream and writhe in pain for a prolonged period.
"The Justice Department is continuing its review of the federal protocol used
by the Bureau of Prisons as well as policy issues related to the death penalty,
and we have, in effect, a moratorium in place on federal executions in the
meantime," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr has said.
All states and the federal government use lethal injection as their primary
method of execution. States use a variety of protocols using 1, 2, or 3 drugs.
The 3-drug protocol uses an anesthetic or sedative, typically followed by
pancuronium bromide to paralyze the inmate and potassium chloride to stop the
inmate's heart. The 1 or 2-drug protocols typically use a lethal dose of an
anesthetic or sedative.
A bleak existence
Sister Rita Clare Gerardot of the Sisters of Providence at Saint
Mary-of-the-Woods was a silent protester at the McVeigh and Garza executions.
She has also been a spiritual adviser for former death row inmate David Paul
Hammer, who was resentenced in July 2014 to life without parole after spending
about 15 years on death row.
Gerardot has told the Tribune-Star that facing execution is a bleak existence
at the prison.
While she herself has never been inside the special confinement unit, she said
she has heard descriptions of it from Hammer and others who have experienced it
"They are in a small cell by themselves. All their meals are pushed through a
slot. There is no recreation, but they can go out of their cells 3 times a week
into cages," she said.
The cells contain a bed, toilet, shower and a chair connected to a desk, she
said. And there is a small color television in each cell - color only because
black-and-white TVs are no longer available.
The inmates can speak to other nearby inmates at the fronts of their cells, she
said, and they have a limited amount of time when they can use a telephone and
access email, and have access to a library. If a friend or relative sends money
for commissary, the inmates can order additional food or clothing beyond what
is provided by the prison.
"Truthfully, I don't know how they keep their sanity," Gerardot said.
Gerardot started visiting Hammer at the request of a Sister of Mercy from New
York, who would not regularly make trips to the penitentiary in Terre Haute.
Gerardot said went as a "minister of record" for Hammer, so she would not count
as one of the limited visitation times that he received each month. She spoke
to him through a window, using a 2-way telephone, the same as family members
and other visitors. He was led to the meetings in shackles, she said, and
returned to his cell wearing shackles.
Hammer is now housed at a federal prison in Missouri since his re-sentencing.
Other notable inmates
The penitentiary at Terre Haute also houses other notable inmates who are not
on death row.
The correctional complex, which also includes a medium security federal
correctional institution and a satellite minimum-security camp, has a history
of housing some "celebrity" inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.
Currently, John Walker Lindh, often called "the American Taliban," is serving a
sentence until May 2019.
Abdulwali Abdukhad Muse of Somalia has a release date of October 2038. He was
sentenced to 33-plus years in prison after pleading guilty to hijacking,
kidnapping and hostage-taking connected to the April 2009 piracy of the
container ship MV Maersk Alabama, which was dramatized the movie "Captain
Former celebrities who have been housed at the prison complex include troubled
NFL quarterback Art Schlichter, former Illinois governor George Ryan and former
Ku Klux Klan member James Ford Seale, who died in custody in 2011 while serving
a life sentence.
Others former high-profile inmates include singer Ronald Isley, who was
convicted of tax evasion; Chuck Berry, who was sentenced for his alleged
amorous involvement with an underage waitress in the 1960s; Chicago power
broker William "The Pope" Cellini, who was released in 2013; baseball pitcher
Dennis Dale "Denny" McLain, the last MLB pitcher to win 30 games in 1 season;
and Native American activist Leonard Peltier.
The U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute is high security with a population of
about 1,409 total inmates, including 52 on death row.
The medium security federal correctional institution has a population of 1,010
while the satellite camp has another 328 inmates.
The entire population of the complex is about 2,747 inmates.
4 legal alternatives to lethal injection in the US
This afternoon, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said he would not call for an
investigation into lethal injection procedures, despite yesterday's execution
when the prisoner convulsed for several minutes, according to eye witnesses.
Despite recent botched executions and problems getting the drugs, lethal
injection is the primary means of execution in the 31 states that impose the
death penalty. However, several states offer alternative methods of execution.
Here they are in order of popularity, according to the Death Penalty
# of executions since 1976: 158
Legal in: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina,
Tennessee and Virginia
Time until death: 2-15+ minutes, according to NBC News
Why it phased out: There were 2 negatively publicized executions in the late
'90s - 1 prisoner's head burst into flames and photos of another's bloody face
post-execution surfaced online.
2. Gas Chamber
# of executions since 1976: 11
Legal in: Arizona, California, Missouri, Wyoming and Oklahoma
Time until death: 10-18 minutes
# of executions since 1976: 3
Legal in: Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington
Time until death: 4-11 minutes
4. Firing squad
# of executions since 1976: 3
Legal in: Oklahoma, Utah
Time until death: Less than a minute
Worldwide: Despite its low ranking in the U.S., hanging is the most popular
execution method world-wide, followed by firing squad, beheading, lethal
injection and electrocution, according to Al Jazeera. The U.S. is the only
country to use electrocution.
How many drugs does it take to kill the condemned?
The State of Arkansas's recent rush to execute 8 death-row prisoners before the
expiration date on one of the drugs in its killer cocktail (as of my deadline
they were halfway there) is a stellar example of the absurdity of the death
penalty. Even here in progressively enlightened California officials are still
trying to figure out the most humane combination of chemicals it takes to
poison a condemned criminal.
These kinds of public dramas would be comical were they not so grotesque. As in
some Marx Brothers or Three Stooges or Samuel Beckett routine, public servants
were arguing over how many drugs, and which ones in what combination, make for
the most efficient method of execution.
Too bad Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Janis Joplin,
Elvis, Prince and Lenny Bruce aren't available as a panel of experts on the art
of the overdose. Surely they could serve as authoritative advisers on how much
dope, and what kind, it takes to finish someone off - and maybe even get them
high before the lights go out. That seems sort of humane.
Humanity's evolution from stoning to drawing-and-quartering to the gallows to
the guillotine to the firing squad to the electric chair to the gas chamber to
lethal injection (have I left anything out?) reveals nothing so much as the
power of euphemism to veil what is, no matter how you do it or describe it,
It is only human nature to want to do away with people who have committed
heinous crimes. I personally thought that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh
deserved to be buried alive in a building demolished by controlled implosion.
There is something emotionally satisfying in contemplating the suffering of
horrible individuals doomed to die for committing unspeakable acts against
other people. The death penalty speaks to this primitive need for vengeance.
But apart from the fact that capital punishment has proved to be no deterrent
to crime, and that there has yet to be devised a method of state murder that is
not cruel and unusual, the idea that any civilized country would resort to such
barbarism calls into question the notion of civilization.
And if death is a release from the trials and torments as well as the pleasures
of living, and if imprisonment is at best a bummer, to execute a condemned
convict is to do him (or her) a favor, putting him out of the existential
misery of incarceration.
Life in prison, on the other hand, with no chance of parole - the endless
monotony of walls and bars and the company of unpleasant people - seems to me a
much more fitting and hellish revenge for society to take against a killer than
letting him off the hook of his captivity by murdering him with the state???s
official permission. (This is to say nothing of the reformed and repentant
criminal who has acknowledged the unforgivable transgression of his crime and
attempted to become, behind bars, a more decent person.)
As off-the-charts as Saudi Arabia's mass beheadings may seem to squeamish
Westerners, there's something at least honest about making a public spectacle
of the death penalty. I don't see how openly chopping off heads is any more
outrageous than injecting people with fatal doses of toxic chemicals behind
So I would argue that if inmates are to be executed, the execution should be
done in the public square - say, a football stadium - and of course on
Facebook, YouTube and the Death Channel. Let "the people" observe in real time
exactly what is being done in their name. Perhaps it should even be required
viewing, with random citizens selected by lottery to pull the trigger or throw
the switch or push the plunger or swing the fatal blade.
Then we would have a chance to see, streamed live and in infinite replays, just
how humane such justice really is.
(source: Column; Stephen Kessler lives in Santa Cruz and is a regular
contributor to the Sentinel----Santa Cruz Sentinel)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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