Oklahoma death-penalty moratorium should continue until flaws are addressed, commission says

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An independent commission is recommending that Oklahoma’s moratorium on the death penalty be extended until reforms can address “the volume and seriousness of the flaws” in the state’s capital punishment system.

One of the commission co-chairs, former Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, announced the study findings at a press conference Tuesday, the Tulsa World and NewsOK report.

Henry said the best process for executions appears to be use of a one-drug protocol using a barbiturate, rather than a three-drug protocol using the sedative midazolam.

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission was formed by the Constitution Project after Oklahoma imposed the moratorium to allow for a grand jury investigation into execution problems. In 2014, inmate Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack after a botched execution, leading to concerns about the execution process.

But the commission’s work extended beyond the drug protocol used in executions. It adopted more than 40 recommendations addressing areas ranging from the reliability of evidence and pay for defense lawyers.

Henry said he was particularly troubled by the number of death-row inmates who had been exonerated, according to Tulsa World’s coverage of the press conference. The number is 10, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. One problem, Henry said, is that public defenders “are just overwhelmed with felony cases.”

“They don’t have enough attorneys,” Henry said. “They don’t have the funding that they need, especially in death-penalty cases, to hire investigators (or) to hire experts.”

The commission report (PDF) included these recommendations:

• Oklahoma should provide an avenue for post-conviction relief based on changing science that casts doubt on an inmate’s conviction.

• Video recordings should be made of line-ups (or by audio if not available), and interrogations in homicide cases. If an entire interrogation is not recorded, there should be a rebuttable presumption that the interrogation is inadmissible.

• A reliability hearing should be held before introduction of testimony from jailhouse informants.

• The state bar should enact guidelines for the appointment and performance of defense lawyers in capital cases.

• Lawyers working for the state’s indigent defense system should receive pay that is commensurate with that of prosecutors.

Hat tip to the Marshall Project.

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