Rep. George Young thanks commissioners for Oklahoma Death Penalty Review report
Published: May 2nd, 2017
Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus Chair-elect Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, this week thanked a bipartisan commission for its work reviewing Oklahoma’s death penalty procedures.
The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission is comprised of 11 members from different political and career backgrounds. The group met for more than a year to evaluate every part of the state’s death penalty proceedings, from arrest to lethal injection. Ultimately, the group unanimously recommended the state continue its moratorium on capital punishment until “significant reforms” are made.
“These men and women conducted an exhaustive look at Oklahoma’s death penalty practices,” said Young, D-Oklahoma City. “I have been concerned about this state’s capital punishment protocol for a while now, and I cannot thank the commissioners enough for their dedication to reviewing this important subject.
“They spent hours poring over documents, interviewing experts and meeting with state officials, and the commission reached unanimous decisions that should not be taken lightly.
“Commissioners found the state’s death penalty process has serious flaws and lacks resources and funding to be carried out effectively, accurately and humanely. In its 271-page report, the commission recommends 46 changes “to address systemic problems in key areas, including forensics, innocence protection, the execution process and the roles of the prosecution, defense counsel, jury and judiciary.”
Included in the recommendations are several suggestions for who should be eligible for a death sentence. The report reveals that competency standards for defendants eligible for the death penalty have not been updated in more than a century. Further, commissioners found state statute “effectively allows for the execution of an inmate without a merits determination as to competence” as long as the warden does not question the defendant’s competency.
Commissioners also recommend opening up the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to include a more diverse panel. Recommendations also include creating recusal guidelines for the board as well as members participating in a “deliberative” discussion before voting on a clemency petition.
Commissioners suggest the Oklahoma Department of Corrections revise its protocol with clearer procedures for carrying out capital punishment to minimize the possibility of botched executions.
Executions have been on hold in the state since October 2015 when the attorney general’s office found the wrong drug was used in the January 2015 lethal injection of Charles Warner (http://www.www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/analysis-death-penalty-review-commission-issues-sweeping-transformative-recommendations).
“This is heavy work, and the commissioners left no stone un-turned when evaluating legal precedents and how they apply to Oklahoma’s practices. Few people would’ve been willing to spend days entrenched in capital punishment procedures, but it was a necessary and noble commitment,” said Young. “I urge the Department of Corrections and Attorney General Mike Hunter to take these recommendations seriously when moving forward with executions. It’s critical we do everything possible to ensure no innocent person is executed in our state.”