Tom Hird, Attorney for Benjamin Cole, Responds to Cole’s Execution

Benjamin Cole was a person with serious mental illness whose schizophrenia and brain damage went undiagnosed and untreated for many years, eventually leading to the tragic crime for which he was executed. Over his years on death row, Ben slipped into a world of delusion and darkness.

“Although I represented him for many years, he was often unable to interact with my colleagues and me in any meaningful way. As Ben’s physical health deteriorated along with his mind, he became progressively more detached from reality, refusing to leave his cell, moving little and with difficulty, and rarely speaking to anyone.

It is unconscionable that the State denied Ben a competency trial. Ben lacked a rational understanding of why Oklahoma took his life today. As Oklahoma proceeds with its relentless march to execute one mentally ill, traumatized man after another, we should pause to ask whether this is really who we are, and who we want to be.”

– Tom Hird, attorney for Benjamin Cole, on October 20, 2022

Background Re: Benjamin Cole, narrative provided by his legal team

Benjamin Cole’s severe mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia and brain damage, was long-standing and extensively documented. His condition deteriorated to the point that he was largely catatonic, could not manage his own basic hygiene, and crawled on the cell floor if without a wheelchair.

He barely communicated with prison staff or his own attorneys, going days at a time without speaking to anyone.

Both the United States Constitution and Oklahoma law forbid the execution of a person who is mentally incompetent.

Oklahoma tasks the warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary with initiating competency proceedings if he has objectively good reason to believe the condemned prisoner is not competent to be executed.

Despite being presented with extensive evidence of Mr. Cole’s deteriorated mental state, including the April 2022 report of Dr. George Hough finding him to be incompetent, Warden Jim Farris refused to initiate a competency hearing, relying on the implausible report of a State-hired doctor who claimed to have had a lengthy and lucid conversation with Mr. Cole in July 2022 –- something that prison staff, medical professionals, and his attorneys have been unable to do for years.

On October 4, despite acknowledging the existence of these conflicting expert reports and without hearing any expert testimony, a district court in Pittsburg County ruled that Mr. Cole is competent.

Mr. Cole then sought an order from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals compelling the warden to initiate clemency proceedings. That order and subsequent appeals were denied and Mr. Cole was executed on October 20, 2022.

Mr. Cole’s stay application, which was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, is available here:

Mr. Cole’s clemency application, which was denied by the Oklahoma Board of Pardon and Parole, can be accessed here: