Oklahoma's Own In Focus: Bill Aiming To Pause Executions Moves To House Floor

Oklahoma has executed more people per capita than any other state. Now, some state lawmakers are asking for a pause on executions.

Wednesday, February 28th 2024, 5:14 pm



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State lawmakers are working on a bill that would pause executions in Oklahoma. The legislation is a part of an ongoing push from a group of republican lawmakers to fix the system.

Representative Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow) has fought for years for changes in the death penalty, but this is the first time he’s had movement on legislation to impose a moratorium. The bill passed unanimously through committee.

Oklahoma has executed more people per capita than any other state. Now, some state lawmakers are asking for a pause on executions.

“My problem in our state right now is we cannot trust the system, and I hate it,” McDugle said.

McDugle’s bill would put a five-year moratorium on death penalties, and create a taskforce to come up with some changes to, what he calls, a broken system.

“The Oklahoma Death Row Review Commission put this together with 45 recommendations four or five years ago and not one of these recommendations has been implemented yet,” McDugle said.

McDugle says there are people sitting on death row now that he believes are not worthy of the death penalty, like Richard Glossip.

Related: The Richard Glossip Case

“The problem in Oklahoma actually runs deeper than just the Glossip case,” McDugle said.

While there weren’t any lawmakers in committee opposing the legislation, there was talk about adjusting the moratorium from five years to two years.

“I thank God that you brought that forward. It needs to be dealt with and very few people are willing to do what you’ve done,” Representative Danny Williams (R-Seminole) said to McDugle

With 36 people currently sitting on death row in McAlester and an execution scheduled for April, McDugle says time is of the essence. 

“I’m a believer in the death penalty, but we cannot continue a death penalty without making some changes here in Oklahoma,” McDugle said.

The bill is now eligible to be heard on the House floor, where Representative McDugle says he’s cautiously optimistic the bill will move forward. 

History of the death penalty in Oklahoma

Since 1976, Oklahoma has executed 123 people, 11 of those since the last moratorium was lifted in 2021.

Executions were stopped in 2017 after three high-profile botched executions.

In 2014, inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection. 

Related: Lockett’s Family Speaks Out About Botched Execution

In 2015, a scheduled execution of Richard Glossip was halted moments before due to the state receiving the wrong drug.

Related: Scathing Report Shows Problems, Negligence in OK Executions.

An investigation revealed the previous execution of Charles Warner was carried out using that same incorrect drug.

Related: Autopsy: Wrong Drug Was Used To Execute Charles Warner

The moratorium lasted nearly 7 years.

The next inmate set to be executed will have his clemency hearing next week. Michael Smith was convicted for two separate murders in 2022. Attorney General Gentner Drummond requested the Pardon and Parole Board deny clemency.

That hearing is set for next Wednesday. Smith's execution is scheduled for April 4th.

The Richard Glossip case has been in the spotlight for several years, and the US Supreme Court will finally hear the case this fall. Glossip was sentenced to death for hiring Justin Sneed to kill their boss Barry Van Treese.

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