FEATURED POST

Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

Image
Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Oklahoma death penalty panel has its work cut out

Oklahoma's death chamber
Oklahoma's death chamber
The U.S. Supreme Court has said as recently as last year, when it ruled on a sedative that's used in Oklahoma executions, that the manner in which Oklahoma carries out the death penalty is constitutional. But is the same true of the overall process?

This will be the focus of a yearlong study to be led by former Gov. Brad Henry, with help from the Constitution Project, a research nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Those involved intend to look at the death penalty in Oklahoma from top to bottom, from arrest to execution, and gauge the fairness of the system.

There are many, in Oklahoma and across the country, who believe the entire U.S. criminal justice system is patently unfair, and they point to the large numbers of blacks and indigent offenders who wind up behind bars nationwide. Do race and economic status play outsized roles in Oklahoma's capital cases? This is sure to be explored.

We have written many times through the years about the burden carried by the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, which does the important work of providing counsel for those who can't afford a personal attorney. The OIDS, with a budget of $16 million, handles roughly 44,000 cases per year in its 75 counties (Oklahoma and Tulsa counties have their own systems). These include murder cases which, depending on circumstances, could carry the death penalty.

OIDS attorneys could have as many as 30 to 40 open cases at a time. The agency's executive director handles half a dozen or more cases himself each year, due to staffing concerns. His agency has roughly a half-dozen investigators spread across Oklahoma. District attorneys' offices, meanwhile, have several investigators, along with other resources at their disposal to use in prosecuting their cases.

This would seem to tilt the playing field decidedly against those who must use the indigent defense system. On the other hand, death penalty cases have several steps of review built in, and wrongful prosecutions in Oklahoma death penalty cases have been rare. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 10 Oklahoma death row inmates have been exonerated through the years. The state has carried out 112 executions since 1976, and has 49 inmates on death row today.

All Oklahoma executions have been on hold since October, when a moratorium was put in place at the request of Attorney General Scott Pruitt. His office is investigating circumstances that led to the wrong drug being delivered to the state prison for use in 2 executions last year, one of which was carried out. The other was halted in September.

Mark Henrickson, who represents the inmate whose execution was postponed, says Oklahoma is "at a critical phase" with the death penalty, due partly to the state's current budget problems. "I can be sure they're not sending more funds to make sure people get fair cases," Henrickson said.

The new commission includes judges, prosecutors, public defenders, former elected officials and others. Members have a lot of heavy lifting to do during the next year. Henry, who approved several executions during his 2 terms as governor, rightly noted that the consequences in these cases couldn't be higher. Thus, the death penalty "needs to be done right."

We wish the commission luck and look forward to what it finds about Oklahoma's process in carrying out the ultimate punishment, a penalty that has run aground in a majority of states but still enjoys strong public support here.

Source: The Oklahoman, Editorial Board, April 1, 2016

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Texas: Montgomery County DA asks governor to stay Anthony Shore's execution

Texas court halts execution to review claims that co-defendant lied at trial

Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

Alabama executes Torrey Twane McNabb

Hours before execution, Tourniquet Killer granted 90-day stay at DA's request

The Execution Dock in London was used for more than 400 years to execute pirates, smugglers & mutineers

Justices Won’t Review Florida Death-Penalty Cases

Execution stayed for Alabama man convicted of killing cop

More drug dealers to be shot dead: Indonesia's National Narcotics Agency chief

Driver Of Deadly Immigrant Smuggling Run Avoids Death Penalty With Guilty Plea