Oklahoma Watch
Oct. 2, 2023
Democracy Watch

Legislative Panel Will Examine Death Penalty Moratorium 

State Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, speaks at a press conference held on June 15, 2022 to discuss a review of death row prisoner Richard Glossip’s case. McDugle and dozens of other Republican lawmakers believe Glossip is innocent. (Keaton Ross/Oklahoma Watch)

By Keaton Ross | Democracy/Criminal Justice Reporter

Overcoming a string of legal challenges, Oklahoma’s quest to carry out dozens of executions is going according to plan. 

The state has executed 10 death row prisoners since a nearly seven-year moratorium ended in October 2021, with another execution slated for Nov. 30. A federal judge ruled last year that the state’s execution protocol does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. 

As the state pushes to clear its death row, one Republican lawmaker remains concerned Oklahoma isn’t doing enough to give relief to death row prisoners who claim innocence. 

Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, will host an interim study tomorrow examining whether lawmakers should place a moratorium on the death penalty. Former Pardon and Parole Board Chairman Adam Luck and death row exonerate Herman Lindsey are among the speakers scheduled to testify. 

“The time has come for Oklahoma legislators to reckon with the injustices inherent in our state’s death penalty,” Luck said in a statement. “My front-row seat to the system informs my decision to officially join Oklahoma Conservatives Concerned and to call for a moratorium on executions.”

McDugle and a coalition of Republican lawmakers have been staunch supporters of Richard Glossip, whose conviction in the 1997 death of Barry Van Treese has drawn criticism for a lack of corroborating evidence. In April, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner filed a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Glossip’s writ of certiorari. 

The Supreme Court granted Glossip’s request for an execution stay in early May. The state most recently had him scheduled for execution on May 18, 2023. 

Convincing the Legislature to support a pause on executions could prove a tough sell. Nearly two-thirds of voters supported a 2016 state question to protect the state’s right to carry out executions. A Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates poll released in early August found that 65% of Oklahoma voters favor the death penalty.

Republican opponents of the death penalty often cite their faith in arguments, saying support for capital punishment would contradict their anti-abortion stance. Members of the Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty group have also cited concerns raised in a 2017 report from the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission. 

McDugle previously told Oklahoma Watch he’s not anti-death penalty but wants the state to implement better post-conviction relief processes for death row prisoners. In 2021 he filed a bill to establish a death penalty conviction integrity unit under the state’s Pardon and Parole Board. That measure cleared a committee vote but was not considered in the full House. 

The interim study will begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday in room 4S.5 of the state Capitol. A live stream will be provided on the House website.

Also set for this week is a special session where Gov. Kevin Stitt will ask lawmakers to consider sweeping income tax reductions. For context on what to expect, check out my newsletter from two weeks ago.

What I’m Reading This Week:

  • Public Access Remains Limited at Oklahoma State Board of Education Meetings: A line of at least 30 people was still waiting to get in after Thursday’s meeting started. State law does not require government bodies to have enough space for everyone who wants to attend, but one open meetings advocate said ensuring there’s enough space for everyone honors the spirit of the law. [Oklahoma Voice]
  • A Patient-Dumping Probe Clears Two Tulsa Hospitals After Man Left Paralyzed on the Streets: Two hospitals who refused care for a man who was ultimately left paralyzed won’t face federal fines, Kayla Branch of The Frontier reports. [The Frontier]
  • Nonprofit News Outlets: A Growing, Integral Part of Oklahoma’s Journalism Landscape: Recent expansion of nonprofit news in Oklahoma illustrate that officials will continue to receive scrutiny, but under a new era of cooperation between nonprofit and for-profit news teams. [NonDoc]

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