Oklahoma’s next lethal injection delayed for competency hearing

Associated Press - January 9, 2024 6:21 am

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of corrections shows James Chandler Ryder, whose scheduled execution next month has been paused for 100 days so that a hearing can be held to determine if he’s competent enough to be executed. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued the stay of execution on Dec. 22, 2023, Ryder was scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Feb. 1, 2024, for his role in the 1999 slayings of a mother and son in Pittsburg County following a property dispute. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The lethal injection of an Oklahoma man scheduled to be executed next month has been paused for 100 days so that a hearing can be held to determine if he’s mentally competent enough to be executed.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued the stay of execution on Dec. 22 for James Ryder, 61. Ryder was scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Feb. 1 for his role in the 1999 slayings of a mother and son in Pittsburg County after a property dispute.

“Having reviewed the evidence, we find the matter should be remanded to the District Court of Pittsburg County for a hearing to determine whether Ryder ‘has raised substantial doubt as to his competency to be executed,’” the appellate court wrote in its order.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office did not oppose the defense’s request for a competency hearing, but a spokesperson for his office said they “plan to present evidence in support of Mr. Ryder’s competency to be executed.”

Ryder’s attorneys have argued for years that he is incompetent and that his mental illness has become worse since he’s been imprisoned on death row. Several psychologists have diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia and concluded he is not competent.

Under Oklahoma law, an inmate is mentally incompetent to be executed if they are unable to have a rational understanding of the reason they are being executed or that their execution is imminent.

A neuropsychologist retained by his defense team who evaluated Ryder in 2022 determined he showed signs of major mental illness, with an emaciated and disheveled appearance, cognitive problems and delusional fixations.

“In terms familiar to the law, Mr. Ryder is insane,” Dr. Barry Crown wrote. “His mental power has been wholly obliterated. He is unable to comprehend or process, in any fashion, the reason he is to be executed and that the execution is imminent.”

Even the warden at the prison where Ryder is housed, Jim Farris, wrote a letter to the local district attorney in 2022 saying he believes Ryder “may have become insane during his incarceration at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.”

Emma Rolls, the chief of the capital unit at the federal public defender’s office in Oklahoma City, said the evidence supporting Ryder’s incompetency is overwhelming.

“The question of Mr. Ryder’s incompetency is not even close here,” Rolls said. “He is extremely paranoid. He has fixed delusions. Any conversation you have with him, it becomes clear that he believes his death sentence results from some sort of conspiracy involving politicians, the central World Bank and the manufacturers of execution drugs.”

A clemency hearing scheduled for Jan. 10 will be rescheduled, according to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

Pittsburg County District Court Judge Michael Hogan will now conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine if Ryder’s attorneys have raised substantial doubt about his competency to be executed. If he is found to be mentally incompetent, state law directs the Department of Corrections and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to determine the best place for him to be held in safe confinement until his competency is restored.

Ryder was sentenced to die for the 1999 beating death of Daisy Hallum, 70, and to life without parole for the shotgun slaying of her son, Sam Hallum, 38. Court records show Ryder lived on the Hallum’s property in Pittsburg County for several months in 1998 and took care of their home and horses when they were out of town. He had a dispute with the family over some of his property after he moved out.

 

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