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OK-CAPD speaks against death penalty on World Day Against the Death Penalty

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Anti-death penalty activists advocate for voters to not support SQ 776 in 2016.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Rev. Don Heath, chair of the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty, knows that while the abolishment of the death penalty in Oklahoma may be years in the making, he hopes prisoners on Oklahoma’s death row would at least be treated like humans and not animals.

“At this point, my concern is to open people’s eyes that those on death row are human beings, not monsters. Yes, they have done terrible things, but we as a state should do something to humanize the experience (of death penalty),” he said. I think ultimately, the death penalty will be held as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no question that this is cruel and unusual punishment, but the problem will be changing the hearts and minds of the people here. The harsh criminal justice system in Oklahoma needs to change”

Heath spoke on the state of the death penalty in Oklahoma on Tuesday’s World Day Against Death Penalty, which is annually observed on Oct. 10. This year’s 15th annual World Day Against the Death Pealty is meant to raise awareness about the death penalty and is supported through more than 180 local initiatives worldwide.

“The theme this year is poverty and the death penalty,” Heath said. “We can’t help but make the connection between the death penalty and mass incarceration in Oklahoma. Beyond the death penalty, Oklahoma also has the second highest incarceration rate for men and the highest incarceration rate for women in the nation. The criminal justice scheme in Oklahoma is based on long sentences for mostly people of color and poor whites.”

He added that the lack of a vigorous defense fund for the accused results in attorneys who are undercompensated and overworked, resulting in a less than ideal representation for the incarcerated, especially those on death row.

“The United States is the only Western country that still inflicts the death penalty on its citizens,” he said. Other countries that still carry out the death penalty include Japan, China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Iraq.

“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. 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.”

While the death penalty has become increasingly rare even in the United States, Oklahoma is currently researching new lethal injection protocols to use. Nineteen states in the U.S. have abolished the death penalty and only 10 states have executed a criminal defendant in the past five years. Nine of these ten states were part of the Confederacy.

In April, an 11-member state commission led by Former Gov. Brad Henry released a nearly 300-page report on the Oklahoma death penalty that included more than 40 recommendations. The commission members also made recommendations about executions themselves, saying the changes should be implemented before the executions resume.

Oklahoma’s new Republican Attorney General Mike Hunter said that while he respected the panel’s work, he and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections would move forward to new protocols to be used in executions.

Oklahoma voters agreed. In the last November election, voters 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.

“The next thing to be expected is the death penalty protocol that the DOC and the AG are working on,” Heath said. “The DOC has worked for several months to revise the protocols and how we do the drugs, but one of our concerns is the protocol. There is no representation for criminal defense about the protocols.”

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, according to information from OK-CAPD.

“The death penalty dehumanizes all of us,” Heath said. “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.”

The death penalty does not deter crime and is more costly than life without parole, according to the organization.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 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.

In American, 156 people have been exonerated from death, 10 in Oklahoma.

In May 2016, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission Report also indicated that innocent people have been sentenced to death in Oklahoma.

Currently there are 46 inmates on death row in Oklahoma. Sixteen of those have exhausted all of their appeals and are eligible for execution dates if executions are resumed in Oklahoma.

The sixteen Oklahoma inmates waiting execution 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 have been on hold since the wrong drug, potassium acetate – instead of potassium chloride, was almost used on September 30, 2015 in an attempt to execute Richard Glossip.

Officials later confirmed that the same wrong drug had been used to kill Charles Warner on Jan. 15, 2015, according to OK-CAPD.

The grand jury report recommended a series of changes, and corrections. The Attorney General’s office says that that it would not seek a new execution until 150 days after new protocols have been adopted.

“We know that some of what happens on death row is dehumanizing,” she said. “At the least, we can humanize the process.”

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Heide Brandes

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