Does Oklahoma Have The Death Penalty?

If you live in the United States you might be curious as to which states have the death penalty and which states don’t. 

You might consider it important to know whether or not your state is a capital state, not just for your peace of mind but also for your family. If a member of your family gets accused of a heinous crime, then it is vital that you have all the information you need to ensure that you and your family are aware of all the facts relating to capital punishment in your state. 

So, if you have ever wondered whether or not Oklahoma is a capital state then this article will give you the information to find out. You will never have to wonder again does Oklahoma have the death penalty because you will know the answer. 

Does Oklahoma Have The Death Penalty?

First of all, let’s answer the most basic question first – does Oklahoma have the death penalty?

Oklahoma does indeed currently have the death penalty with the means of execution being a lethal injection. Oklahoma was in fact the first state and the first place in the world to start the use of lethal injections as a means of committing executions.

The death penalty is only applicable in the conviction of first-degree murder cases which include the following:

  • That the defendant was convicted of a felony using violence prior to the conviction for the death penalty
  • That the defendant was knowingly creating a great risk of death not just to their victim but to other people – for example during a bank robbery threatening to shoot more people than were actually shot.
  • The defendant committed the murder because they were paid to do it or they paid someone else to do it – this particular stipulation is commonly used for those who are involved in organised crime gangs. 
  • The defendant committed the murder in a particularly heinous or gruesome way. 
  • The defendant committed the murder in order to evade prosecution. 
  • The defendant committed the murder whilst they were serving imprisonment for another felony.
  • The defendant committed the murder on a person who was a peace officer or worked in a prison or other form or correctional facility. 
  • The defendant committed the murder in such a way that it is believed that is they were released back into the community they would commit further acts of violence – this particularly applies if the defendant is either a serial killer or suspected of being a serial killer. 

One or more of these conditions needs to be met before the death penalty can be passed. Interestingly enough, first degree rape, extortionate kidnapping, forced sodomy and or rape of an induvial under 14 are still capital crimes according to Oklahoma’s statue books. 

However the death sentence cannot be carried out on individuals convicted in these cases because of Kennedy v Louisiana, a 2008 Supreme Court case in which the death penalty is prohibited on individuals who have committed rape of a child where the intention was not to kill the child or the child did not die. 

Now that we have made clear that Oklahoma does have capital punishment and the restrictions that are placed on who can be executed, let’s move on to briefly discussing the history of capital punishment in Oklahoma. 

The History Of The Death Penalty In Oklahoma

Since 1976, Oklahoma has had the most executions per capita of any state in the United States and comes only behind Texas in the amount of convictions involving the death penalty that have been passed down.

Since 1977, lethal injections have been the method of execution in the state and in total 113 people have been executed this way. However, executions have only occurred via this method since 1990 – indeed from 1966 till 1990 no one was executed in Oklahoma.

This all changed in 1990 when convicted killer Charles Coleman was executed for the 1979 murders of John Seward and his wife, the parents of Coleman’s then girlfriend. Despite decades of appeals Coleman was eventually executed in 1990 for his crimes. 

Executions in the state did not start to skyrocket however until the governorship of Republican Frank Keating. During Keating’s time in office 52 people were executed for murder. An unfortunate side-effect of the high execution rate was that someone individuals thought it right to try and make sure there were as many capital convictions as possible.

One was then District Attorney Robert “CowBoy Bob” Macy who was responsible for more death sentence convictions than any other DA in the nation at the time. Macy, alongside disgraced police scientist Joyce Gilchrist ended up sending several innocent people to death row.

Fortunately, none of these individuals were executed meaning that Macy’s rush to judgement only caused people to be deprived of their liberty and not their lives. 

Oklahoma’s controversial way of causing executions has of course come under pressure in recent years.

The execution of convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Derrell Lockett was deemed to have been a failure in 2010 due to the protracted end of Lockett’s life – his execution which should have been nearly instantaneous took around thirty-three minutes, during which time Lockett suffered an immense amount of pain

Similar controversy was caused eleven years later in 2021 when John Grant’s execution also went wrong and many commentators saw his execution as effectively torture. Oklahoma state disagreed and stated that they believed that Grant’s execution followed the guidelines set out of executions. 

Despite the protracted controversy, the people of Oklahoma are still very much in favor of the death sentence.

A 2016 vote found that 67% of people who voted supported a new addition to the Oklahoma state constitution which strengthened the ability to not only ensure state executions but also to ensure that any method could be used for executions provided it wasn’t prohibited by the US constitution. 

Oklahoma has certainly been a state that has flirted with abolishing the death penalty in the past – during the early 20th century, Oklahoma’s Second Governor Democrat Lee Cruce commuted every death sentence passed during his time as governor.

However, the mood in the state has changed a great deal since then and the likelihood of the death penalty being abolished in the state is relatively low. 

Does Oklahoma Have the Death Penalty?

Why It Is Important To Know About The Death Penalty In Oklahoma 

The reason it is important to know about the death penalty in Oklahoma is because, by understanding one of the most prolific states for state execution it is easy to understand why people both support and oppose the death penalty.

The actions of those involved with the death penalty in the state have clearly caused many people to choose either side of the issue and to fervently support one or the other. 

However, the only way that Americans can move forward together to have a serious debate on the issue of whether or not the USA should have a death penalty in any state is for both sides to be able to understand why each have such strong and yet opposing views on the issue.

Of course simple discussion won’t change anyone’s mind, however it will surely lead to greater understanding and perhaps, in time, the US will be able to have a firm view on one of the most controversial pieces of government power that has ever existed in this fair nation.