Oklahoma is trying to make it nearly impossible to get off death row

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This photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections on February 5, 2018 shows Julius Jones. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, file)

To get off death row in Oklahoma, if the Republican-dominated legislature gets its way, inmates would have to admit their crimes. The Clemency and Parole Board simply could not grant clemency to anyone claiming innocence.

A new bill, drafted by Republican Rep. John Pffeiffer, would require clemency to be granted only on the basis of “mercy” or “leniency,” which requires guilt. And to even have that chance, inmates would have to wait to take their case to the parole board until they have an “imminent” execution date, which can take years or even decades. (The state just ended a six-year moratorium on executions late last year. The inmate, John Grant, convulsed and vomited before dying.)

The “Pardons and Parole Board Reform Act of 22” would also limit the governor’s power: he could not exonerate anyone – only change death sentences to life without the possibility of parole.

Many critics of the bill claimed it was a direct retaliation to Julius Jones’ life spared last November. Jones was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of businessman Edmond Paul Howell, but just hours before his execution, Governor Kevin Stitt commuted his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Throughout his 19 years on death row, Jones has maintained his innocence and presented substantial evidence that he was wrongly convicted, such as not fitting the description of the only eyewitness. . Citing doubts about his guilt, the Oklahoma Pardons and Parole Board also voted twice to recommend the commutation of Jones’ sentence.

“In 2021, Julius Jones was the first death row inmate in state history to be allowed a commutation hearing, less than a year later, legislation is being drafted in the Assembly Oklahoma State Legislature to prevent this from happening again,” Angela Clark Little, Legislative Liaison for the Julius Jones Coalition, told VICE News.

The new proposal may also violate the Oklahoma State Constitution, “which empowers the Board of Pardons to recommend clemency for any reason ‘deemed worthy,’ and innocence is certainly such a reason,” according to Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Centre. , a non-profit organization seeking to create transparency and present facts about capital punishment in the United States

Oklahoma leads the nation in executions per capita and has the second highest death sentences of any state. Oklahoma County also ranks third in the United States for total number of executions and fourth for death row exonerations: ten men on death row in that state had their sentences overturned.

Until his retirement in 2001, Bob Macy, nicknamed “”Cowboy Bob”, also worked as an Oklahoma County District Attorney. He is ranked as the second deadliest prosecutor in US history and wore this title as a badge of honor; he kept trading cards with a picture of him on horseback on the front and his death penalty stats on the back Macy was found guilty of misconduct in about a third of the death sentences he won.

“HB 3903 proposes to remove from the criminal justice system any possibility of someone later being found innocent,” Clark Little said. “It’s glaring as nearly half of former Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy’s capital convictions have been overturned.”

Oklahoma’s jurisdiction to carry out executions using its lethal injection protocol is currently under attack in federal court. The lawsuit was filed against the state on the premise of multiple botched executions where the inmate clearly suffered pain during a lengthy execution, prompting charges that the practice was ‘cruel and unusual’ in violation of the Constitution American.

With the suit still pending in federal court, Oklahoma pursued four more executions. These inmates were excluded from the federal trial because they did not choose other methods of execution, such as firing squad.

“Mistakes and misconduct at every stage of Oklahoma’s capital cases are so rampant, you have to ask, can you trust Oklahoma with the death penalty?” said Dunham.

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