Republican-led Oklahoma committee considers pause on executions amid death case scrutiny

Associated Press - October 6, 2023 6:33 am

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma has executed more people per capita than any other state in the U.S. since the death penalty resumed nationwide after 1976, but some Republican lawmakers on Thursday were considering trying to impose a moratorium until more safeguards can be put in place.

Republican Rep. Kevin McDugle, a supporter of the death penalty, said he is increasingly concerned about the possibility of an innocent person being put to death and requested a study on a possible moratorium before the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee. McDugle, from Broken Arrow, in northeast Oklahoma, has been a supporter of death row inmate Richard Glossip, who has long maintained his innocence and whose execution has been temporarily blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There are cases right now … that we have people on death row who don’t deserve the death penalty,” McDugle said. “The process in Oklahoma is not right. Either we fix it, or we put a moratorium in place until we can fix it.”

McDugle said he has the support of several fellow Republicans to impose a moratorium, but he acknowledged getting such a measure through the GOP-led Legislature would be extremely difficult.

Oklahoma residents in 2016, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, voted to enshrine the death penalty in the state’s constitution, and recent polling suggests the ultimate punishment remains popular with voters.

The state, which has one of the busiest death chambers in the country, also has had 11 death row inmates exonerated since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976. An independent, bipartisan review committee in Oklahoma in 2017 unanimously recommended a moratorium until more than 40 recommendations could be put in place covering topics like forensics, law enforcement techniques, death penalty eligibility and the execution process itself.

Since then, Oklahoma has implemented virtually none of those recommendations, said Andy Lester, a former federal magistrate who co-chaired the review committee and supports a moratorium.

“Whether you support capital punishment or oppose it, one thing is clear, from start to finish the Oklahoma capital punishment system is fundamentally broken,” Lester said.

Oklahoma has carried out nine executions since resuming lethal injections in October 2021 following a nearly six-year hiatus resulting from problems with executions in 2014 and 2015.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issued a moratorium in 2015 at the request of the attorney general’s office after it was discovered that the wrong drug was used in one execution and that the same wrong drug had been delivered for Glossip’s execution, which was scheduled for September 2015.

The drug mix-ups followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection — and after the state’s prisons chief ordered executioners to stop.


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