The Washington Post

Eager to execute

Despite concerns, Oklahoma is embarking on a grotesque capital punishment spree.

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OKLAHOMA’S ENTHUSIASM for capital punishment has been a cruel trauma not only for some inmates it has put to death in recent years but also for the state itself. Such is its track record for botched and excruciati­ngly painful executions using supposedly humane lethal injections — ordeals that have left condemned people writhing and moaning on a gurney, and, in one case, a man saying his body was “on fire” — that the state paused the procedure for nearly seven years, until last year, in an effort to avoid another instance of what many regarded as torture.

Ignoring that barbarous history, officials are now ramping up for what would be a state-sponsored killing spree with few modern antecedent­s in this country, except in Texas. When James Coddington was put to death last month for a murder he committed in 1997 — despite a clemency recommenda­tion by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board — it marked the first of 25 executions Oklahoma has scheduled over the coming 28 months.

That grim timetable reflects the zeal of Oklahoma Attorney General John O’connor, who requested the dates, and other state Republican­s despite the increasing rarity of capital punishment across the country. Nationwide, the number of executions plummeted to just 11 in 2021, from 85 at the turn of the century. At the same time, death sentences across the United States have plunged by more than 90 percent over the past two decades; just 18 were imposed last year.

In Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt ignored demands even from some in his own party that he grant clemency to Mr. Coddington on grounds he had changed and felt remorse. He has postponed, but only for several months, the execution of another man, Richard Glossip, whose guilt has been questioned based on new evidence. A law firm that reviewed the case at the request of state lawmakers from both parties concluded that another man was likely solely responsibl­e for the murder of which Mr. Glossip was convicted.

In justifying the state’s ambitious execution agenda, Mr. Stitt cited a 2016 referendum in which Oklahomans voted nearly 2 to 1 to preserve the death penalty, an outcome the governor said was driven by “justice and safety.” If safety was one goal, however, keeping capital punishment intact did little to advance it — in the first four years after the vote, the latest for which data is available — the state’s homicide rate crept higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As for justice, Americans hold divergent views on the death penalty. There is little doubt, however, that even many advocates were shocked by a tableau of ghastly recent executions in Oklahoma. They included the 2014 death of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and moaned for 43 minutes when he was subjected to lethal injection; he finally had a heart attack and died. Last October, when executions resumed after a years-long hiatus, a condemned man, John Grant, vomited and experience­d full-body convulsion­s.

This stomach-turning history compelled the state to halt executions once. Even after nearly seven years, its officials should not be so grotesquel­y eager to embrace an inherently inhumane form of punishment.

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