Capital punishment has been the law in Oklahoma since 1804 when Congress made the criminal laws of the United States applicable in the Louisiana Purchase, which included present Oklahoma. These legal codes included the crime of “willful murder.” Through the years Congress found other offenses, including rape, that merited capital punishment as well.
From statehood in 1907 until 1915 executions were by hanging in the county of conviction. The records are not perfect, but the number of people hanged between statehood and 1915 is probably six, all men convicted of murder. The fact that the number was not higher is because of Lee Cruce, Oklahoma’s second governor. Cruce was an inveterate foe of the death penalty. Only one person was executed during his term in office while there were 22 murders. In 1916, Oklahoma changed its method of execution from hanging to electrocution.
The first execution for an offense other than homicide occurred in 1930, when a man was executed for rape. Subsequently there were executions for robbery with firearms and for kidnapping. In the late 1920s and during the 1930s there were as many as three executions on any given day. In 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty, as then administered, unconstitutional, 82 persons, all male, had died in Oklahoma’s electric chair.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Gov. David Boren convened a special session of the legislature in 1976 to restore capital punishment in Oklahoma. The legislators overwhelmingly voted in favor. The first execution under the new law occurred in 1990. From 1915 to 2010, Oklahoma has executed 177 individuals, including three women. Oklahoma has had 96 executions since 1976. It was also the first jurisdiction in the world to adopt lethal injection as its method of execution, in 1977.
Recently, there have been 10 cases in Oklahoma where DNA evidence served to exonerate inmates.
This November SQ 776 will be on the Oklahoma ballot. The measure would add a section to the state constitution that declares that all death penalty statutes are in effect, that methods of execution can be changed, and that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment. Vote NO on SQ 776 to prevent this wasteful legislation that has no valid purpose. For more information, visit ThinkTwiceOK.
“The Death Penalty is Morally Obsolete”
Read the April 2015 CMN Spotlight on Oklahoma here.