Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Although polling organizations continue to find majority support for capital punishment for the worst crimes, public affirmation of the ultimate sanction appears to be slipping.
Here in Oklahoma, polls indicate that many who have previously backed executions have shifted toward a preference for penalties of life without possibility of parole for the worst offenders.
In May, we presented the results of a request to our readers to express themselves for or against the death penalty. In response to a request for their views several weeks ago, we received five dozen responses through early May. A majority was opposed to executions, while a minority defended capital punishment.
In that first surge of responses, we heard from readers all over the world and from many states. This time around, all but a handful of comments were from Oklahoman's.
After publication of that compilation on May 14, some three dozen more communications came to The City Sentinel, a monthly print newspaper with 24/7 online presence, or CapitolBeatOK.com, an online news organization.
Some of this last wave of submissions were no doubt driven by both the first compilation and the multi-county grand jury report that documented numerous, and serious, flaws in the state’s death penalty protocols and administration of executions.
In this new wave, two-thirds of the comments stood in opposition to executions, while two-thirds were against. Most responders were Oklahomans, but a number came from beyond our state borders.
Some supporters are succinct, others give multiple reasons
Among death penalty supporters in Oklahoma, some of the new expressions of support were succinct and direct.
David Chambers of Ripley, Oklahoma, said, “Punishment should fit the crime” – while Judy Campbell Doyal Cleveland of Healdton paraphrased the Old Testament, “Eye for an eye.”
Diane Barnett of Cushing asserts, “For some the death penalty is a far kinder form of death than what that person handed down to his victim.”
Sharon Hill of Comanche said executions should be used, “If it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. One year from the date of conviction, put to death.”
Denise Harvey Turner of Kingston, Oklahoma, contended “Yes I believe in the death penalty. You have to enforce an 'ultimate" penalty or a certain amount of prisoners would be uncontrollable. Ask any prison guard. There are truly evil people in this world.”
Stanley A. Garrison of Weatherford that if someone receives the death penalty, “It doesn't matter how they are put to death. One way is as good as another. That sounds cruel, but they didn't care how their victim suffered. By my comment you can surmise I'm for the death penalty.” Garrison also asserted, “We are allowing our criminals to live better in prison than we do our deserving senior citizens. If we don't want to end their lives, then make prisons something other than a breeding ground for more prisoners. The people that I work have friends or relatives in prison and they tell me all they learn in prison is how to be a better prisoner.”
Greg Brown of Norman took a similar path, saying, “They should still have public hangings. Charge an admission fee to watch and donate the money to the victim’s family. Young adults that have been convicted of lesser crimes should also be forced to buy a ticket and have to watch at least once. That would make them think twice about the path they are leading.”
Reasonable, Just, Deters Crime
Of those who wrote from outside the state who supported executions, Dana Robinson of Annapolis, Maryland said the imposition of death for serious crimes is “reasonable and just” and does not violate Biblical principles: “Our God demanded justice and Jesus paid ..for us ...and those taking life by murder deserved to forfeit theirs.”
Mark Sluder of Champaign, Illinois stated his pro-execution view this way: “We do not need all this expense. Just do it the old fashion way by hanging or firing squad. It also helps deter crime.”
A couple of foes not so tender in their opposition to executions
Foster Garrett of Moore has a blunt recommendation for those commit serious crimes: “Instead of death penalty. Banishment! Drop them in the deserts of the Middle East.”
Joseph Bolz of Booner Springs, Kansas, is also blunt, and ultra-populist: “When they start executing politicians and bankers I'll be OK with it.”
Less cost for life sentence, and a better way
Troy Head of Antlers has been studying execution issues, including the finances of death: “I read where it's more expensive to put one to death than to give life without parole. It is the court cost for so many appeals.” John Frazier
of Durant keeps his reasoning simple and brief: “If they have killed then life with no parole or death.” Daryl Reeser of Guthrie is on the same wavelength: “We do not have the right to take a live plus it's cheaper to keep them locked up for life.”
Ivan Hutchcroft of Oklahoma City believes, “It simply is not a deterrent, nor is it economical. It is state vengeance. I would respect more the opinion of those who openly admit that they are responding out of anger and actually want vengeance than to give unsubstantiated subjective reasons to support the death penalty.”
Biblical and other moral reasoning against Executions
Some use Biblical reasoning, including Bill Wilson of Kinta, Oklahoma: “God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” Sandina Heckert wrote,”Against. Thou shalt not kill. And God alone, who gave the law, is the judge.”
Larry E. Foley of Chandler agrees: “For a state that prides itself to be founded on the ‘Christian’ faith, not to mention ‘The Oklahoma Standard’ and ‘The Right To Life’, how can we justify murder in any form?”
Lon Darley of Yukon contends, “The death penalty is a vestige of primitive values. Evidence-based analysis does not demonstrate it has value for deterrence. Life imprisonment without parole protects society as well and permits the opportunity to correct miscarriages of justice, which happen too often. It is dependent on jury trials, the administration of impartial justice, and hugely expensive.
“But the most difficult part is reconciling the death penalty with pro-life values arises in the context of abortion and euthanasia. Support for the death penalty conflicts with moral principles and is ‘justified’ only by retribution – ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ theory of punishment.
“Any Old Testament Biblical ‘justification’ ignores the New Testament red-letter teaching of Jesus -- the adulterous woman story as a prime example. She was caught in the act of adultery, yet Jesus did not say to stone her to death.
“The moral value of life cannot be relatively weighed; such relativism makes a moral stance against other killing, be it pre-birth or end-of-life killing, impossible to support with any moral consistency.”
Rev. Adam Leathers of Guthrie, a leading voice against capital punishment, wrote, “I appreciate this article. It was thorough and delved into the complicated nature of Oklahoma's romance with state sanctioned murder. I believe if we come to together as a state and discuss this issue rationally with level heads, we will inexorably come to the conclusion that the death penalty should be abolished.”
Andrea Simone Sheehan asks,”Isn't [it] illegal /supposedly immoral to murder people? The end.”
Kenneth Wilson of Sallisaw argues, “Killing someone who has killed to prove killing is wrong seems really stupid. Name one crime the death penalty prevented. It also pulls the rug out from under the arguments on abortion. Saving one life while demanding the taking of another seem rather stupid also.”
David Hayton of Billings concludes, “What's the point?”
Never Execute an innocent person
A recurring theme in argumentation against executions comes down to the too-frequent-to countenance execution of innocent persons. A trio of Oklahoma City women argued along these lines.
Sharon Moose Morales reflected, “I'm thinking that it is better for countless guilty people to remain alive than for even ONE innocent person to be put to death unjustly. If a person was put to death on my behalf and later found to be innocent, I would feel that I had been violated twice.”
Another city resident, Malenda Brooks, wrote, “There is proof that innocent people live on death row. Some have most likely been executed. The district attorneys don't care about anything except conviction statistics. The appeals process is flawed too. When we can be certain...with no doubt...I have no problem with it. We are not there yet.”
And, Pat Paradise commented, “Too many errors to use the death penalty now. Science has come so far and we now have the ability to make certain we have the right guy...how many innocents have we killed to date? A horror I don't even want to ponder.”
Jess McAfee would agree: “We as a society need to move past this barbaric punishment. Our judicial system is flawed. We lock up the wrong people sometimes. Death is permanent and can't be appealed. If there's a chance, no matter how small of executing an innocent person, that's enough to abolish it.”
Then, this argument from James Nimmo of Oklahoma City: “We've read many times of the death row ‘convictions’ that have been overturned when prosecutors were found to have suppressed vital evidence that exonerates the defendants. The man killed by the state of Texas for arson and the death of his children has now been proven to have been committed by the state with outdated forensics used as evidence.” He contends, “This is just one example. And please don't tell me about the heinous nature of some of the other murders committed where there is no shadow of a doubt. One innocent man put to death is not acceptable.”
‘Don’t kill in my name’ some opponents plea
Margaret Oakes Cox is simply, “Against the death penalty; it is simply cruel and inhumane to tell someone the day and hour they will die. It is also applied in a totally racist and classist manner; the well-to-do are never executed, the well educated very seldom. Innocent people are executed, and many more innocent people spend years and decades in the hell of death row. The death penalty demeans those of us in whose name it is applied, especially it harms those who must tie down a helpless person to be killed, in order to earn their salary for the day and keep their job. Against.”
“The death penalty is so immoral. We have enough knowledge and means to ensure society is protected from those who commit heinous crimes without killing them,” wrote Rosemary Cavataio Griffis of Oklahoma City.
“Would love to think that capital punishment solved something, but in reality, it just continues the cycle of violence. The victims still have to cope with their loss, the condemned has a family that suffers loss too, it's a one for one swap. Then there's the all to real possibility that in the rush for justice that the condemned may not be guilty of the crime and a greater crime killing an innocent person is more than I can stand,” says Vaughn Wand of Chickasha.
If brevity is the soul of wit, even in a matter so serious, these might be the winners. “I’m against the death penalty,” says Linda Tubbs of Oklahoma City. Besides, says John Perry of Indianapolis, Indiana: “ The death penalty does not work.”
An editor reflects: Let the debate continue, with civility and discernment
Oklahomans are thoughtful and caring people. In this matter, they are deeply and passionately divided.
Some past supporters of capital punishment for the most heinous crimes have changed their views on the wisdom of its continuance, while others believe executions are an important means to punish the most evil among us. The tumult and turmoil surrounding the death sentence looming over Richard Glossip, whom many believe is innocent of a capital offense, increased the ranks of those who would abate and ultimately remove this sanction from state law.
Opponents of state-sanctioned executions have intensified their opposition as the frequency of death sentences has faded across the United States and the world. Without a doubt, the grand jury process, which brought to light shocking details of state government mismanagement of execution protocols and related matters, strengthened foes of the entire framework.
The term “botched execution” has become a synonym for Oklahoma’s process, and that must not be allowed to linger in place. Action is needed not because of critical national commentaries, but because Oklahoma and Oklahoman's deserve the best.
As a state, Oklahoma is nearing a time for renewed discernment about executions. Attorney General Scott Pruitt has said executions could be renewed several months after the final report from the multi-county grand jury is submitted.
While a bipartisan commission continues to study the entire process under the leadership of former Governor Brad Henry – with a final report due sometime in 2017 – many concerned citizens of diverse views contend that the present moratorium on executions should stay in place.
Particularly strong is the aspiration that in the case of Glossip, who still waits on Oklahoma's death row, "One innocent man put to death is not acceptable."
A time for choosing is upon us. This is a serious decision for Oklahoma, to be made by Oklahomans.
With civility and discernment, let the debate continue. For the good of all, “Let justice surge like waters, and righteousness like an unfailing stream.” (Amos 5:24, NAB RE).