"And you're told it's time to die": A Personal Contribution to the 2021 World Day Against the Death Penalty

The following text is excerpted from  Death Row Diary , by William Van Poyck. William Van Poyck -- who maintained his innocence -- was executed by the state of Florida on June 12, 2013.  The 58-year-old, convicted of the 1987 murder of Glades Correctional Institution guard Fred Griffis outside a West Palm Beach doctor’s office, offered his views on everything from prison food to movies to the blood lust of politicians who support the death penalty via letters he posted online with the help of his sister.  After his conviction, Van Poyck, with a reform school education, authored three books, one of which won first-place honors in the memoir category in Writer’s Digest 2004 Self-Published Book Awards.  Locked up with what the courts have deemed the worst of the worst, Van Poyck opened the doors to a secret world few can imagine... The following piece is excerpted from William Van Poyck’s dispatches written during the last two years prior to his own execution. "Robert Waterhouse was

Oklahoma’s Death Penalty History: Botched Executions, Wrong Drugs, Exonerations

Oklahoma death chamber
With a parole board recommending Julius Jones’ commutation from death to life in prison with the possibility of parole, Oklahoma’s history of executions has come to light.

The state that was the first to allow more than one way to execute someone has a storied and complicated history, including last-minute exonerations and botched deaths. 

Oklahoma legalized the current death penalty law in 1976, and since then has executed the largest number of prisoners per capita.

Oklahoma has several ways to kill prisoners

With a population of 4 million, Oklahoma is only the 28th most populated state. Just Texas and Virginia have executed more people by sheer numbers than Oklahoma.

In fact, Oklahoma was the first state to allow lethal injection as a form of execution.

Nitrogen hypoxia, electrocution, and firing squad are all acceptable means of taking a person’s life in the state. Oklahoma also has the distinction of being the first state to use phenobarbital in an execution, in 2010.

However, Oklahoma’s executions have rarely gone smoothly, and include at least one death that was so badly executed it caused trauma to the department of corrections staff observing and taking part in it. 

Clayton Lockett was scheduled to die in 2014 by lethal injection.

However, the state was unable to find the paralytic drug necessary for ensuring the man did not feel pain during his death, and Mr. Lockett actually writhed on the gurney during the procedure.

According to a medic who was present at Mr. Lockett’s death, “one of the executioners said, ‘He’s trying to get up off the table’ and I thought, ‘What?'” The medic added, “The warden was very upset. Nobody wants a prisoner in an execution situation to suffer.”

Mr. Lockett eventually died, but the damage was done. The case led to a closer inspection of Oklahoma’s policies — as well as how other states execute inmates. 

Oklahoma ready to resume executions after finding drugs for “humane death”

In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States heard a case brought by three death-row inmates who contended that Oklahoma’s use of three drugs for executions was unconstitutional. Specifically, the state’s use of midazolam, the paralytic that allowed Mr. Lockett to wake during his execution, was the focus of the case. However, SCOTUS ruled in favor of using the drug, and executions continued. 

Charles Warner was put to death in Oklahoma 2015. Although Mr. Warner died without incident, an autopsy later found he was injected with the wrong drug to stop his heart. As Mr. Warner’s death followed Mr. Lockett’s, Oklahoma had the distinction of two botched executions in a row. 

Oklahoma’s support for flawed death penalty

Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly supported a 2016 ballot measure to enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution. Yet, 10 people have been exonerated from death row in Oklahoma’s history, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Moreover, governors have commuted the sentences of several death row inmates over the course of the state’s history. High profile death row inmate Julius Jones made history on Sept. 13, 2021 when he became the first death row detainee to receive a recommendation for commuting his sentence from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

Supporters of Jones are hoping Governor Stitt will become the first governor to commute the sentence of a Black man on death row in Oklahoma’s modern history.

Executions may proceed despite pending court case

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has not executed a prisoner since then-Governor Mary Fallin’s 2015 decision to halt executions until Oklahoma could access the appropriate drugs for “humane” deaths.

This led to a scramble to find alternatives, under the guidance of then-Attorney General Mike Hunter. The drugs were later procured, and execution dates for several death row inmates have been scheduled.

However, there is still a pending court case over Oklahoma’s drug cocktail, which is unlikely to be heard until 2022, meaning that prisoners could be executed through means that may be found unconstitutional.

Defense attorneys for death row inmates consider it an outrageous abuse of power by public officials in Oklahoma.

According to Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender representing Julius Jones, “To allow executions to proceed when there is a chance the court could find a constitutionally unacceptable risk that a person could suffer because of the drug combination used, is just plain wrong.”

Source: theblackwallsttimes.com, Erika Stone, September 15, 2021

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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"And you're told it's time to die": A Personal Contribution to the 2021 World Day Against the Death Penalty