Tag: death penalty

Bible Belt state with nation’s highest execution rate considers death penalty flaws

Bible Belt state with nation’s highest execution rate considers death penalty flaws

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommends that the moratorium on the death penalty be extended.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY (RNS) Most Oklahomans believe the devil is real.

State Rep. Mike Ritze thinks that’s why they overwhelmingly support capital punishment, despite highly publicized problems with lethal-injection drugs that prompted state officials to put a temporary moratorium on executions in 2015.

“Because of our faith-based population, we believe there is evil in the world,” said Ritze, a Southern Baptist deacon who co-authored a pro-death-penalty measure supported by 66 percent of voters in the November general election.

“We believe in a devil, and we believe in a God,” the Republican lawmaker said. “As a result, I think Oklahomans are very supportive of the death penalty.”

But last week — just as neighboring Arkansas finished executing four death-row inmates in eight days before one of its lethal-injection drugs expired — the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended that the moratorium be extended.

The commission cited “the volume and the seriousness of the flaws” in the state’s capital punishment system. The bipartisan group of Oklahoma leaders, organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Constitution Project, made 46 recommendations to revamp the process.

“Many of the findings of the commission’s year-long investigation were disturbing and led commission members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death,” according to the in-depth report.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

A baptism, then a murder confession

A baptism, then a murder confession

Texas woman gave her life to Christ, owned up to a slaying — and got a life sentence.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

GATESVILLE, Texas — Lucinda Wilson might have gotten away with murder.

Except that she became a Christian and confessed to her crime.

Now 48, Wilson has served 20-plus years of a life sentence for the capital murder of her ex-fiancé’s girlfriend, Margaret Morales.

Behind bars, the former U.S. Navy servicewoman has worked hard to remain faithful and share the Gospel with other inmates, she said in an interview at the Dr. Lane Murray Unit, a maximum-security women’s prison 40 miles west of Waco.

Wilson won’t be eligible for parole until July 25, 2036 — when she would be 67.

“When I compare it to eternity, it’s really not that long at all,” she said, speaking into a telephone on the other side of a glass partition.

As Wilson visited with The Christian Chronicle, one Texas Department of Criminal Justice guard stood watch. Another guard held a phone to her own ear as she monitored the conversation.

“I don’t deserve to have a second chance really,” said Wilson, an ordinary-looking woman — except for her white prison jumpsuit — with long, brown hair pulled behind her head.

“I just want to try and do as much as I can to bring the Lord the glory he deserves because it’s not about me,” she added. “It’s about what we can do for him and how many souls we can lead to him as well.”

Read the full story.

This story appears in the May 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

AFP: U.S. state of Oklahoma to vote on death penalty

AFP: U.S. state of Oklahoma to vote on death penalty

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Agence France-Presse

Oklahoma City (AFP) – This November, voters in the state of Oklahoma will not only help choose the next U.S. president, but also decide a ballot measure with big implications for the future of the death penalty.

Capital punishment is on hold in the southwestern state after a series of botched executions. With lethal injection drugs becoming harder to acquire, there are doubts whether Oklahoma can resume executions unless a new method is approved.

The ballot measure, known as State Question 776, aims to head off any attempts to end capital punishment by asking voters to enshrine it in the state constitution and empower legislators to decide the best method of execution.

“We’re allowing the people, who overwhelmingly favor the death penalty in Oklahoma, to show certain entities that they want this,” said state representative Mike Ritze, an Oklahoma Republican who was one of the proposal’s authors.

The measure is expected to pass on November 8, enjoying over 70 percent support according to a June poll.

But there have been a lot of questions raised in the last several years over the state’s death penalty.

Read the story on Yahoo! News.

Continue reading “AFP: U.S. state of Oklahoma to vote on death penalty”

Condemned inmate says government, military control his mind


Condemned inmate says government, military control his mind

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 851 words


Less than a week away from his scheduled execution, former Texas drifter Paul Dennis Reid says he’s ready to die for seven murders at fast-food restaurants that terrorized two Tennessee cities in 1997.

But Reid, 45, still maintains his innocence. He says he dropped his appeals, clearing the way for his death by lethal injection Tuesday, “not because I can’t win these cases or not because I am the killer or the executioner or that I’ve had any involvement in it.”

Rather, he blamed a government and military conspiracy to use him as “an experimental lab rat.” The former Oklahoma City resident said he did not know the reason for the conspiracy.

“I deal with it on a daily basis,” Reid told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

Reid suggested scientific technology is used to control his mind and body.

“At times they have the ears ringing at a low level. At times they have the ears ringing at a high-pitched level. They have the scientific technology where they can cause parts of your body to itch, to move – to flicker,” he said.

Reid, dressed in a white prison jumpsuit and restrained by handcuffs, said the conspiracy started in 1985 while he was serving time in Texas for armed robberies. He said the government and military enlisted fellow inmates and his own family members to perform psychological tests on him.

“Well, naturally, out of 800 inmates, some of the convicts came back and conveyed this to me,” Reid said.

It wasn’t the first time Reid alleged such a conspiracy.

Continue reading “Condemned inmate says government, military control his mind”

Wanda Jean Allen executed: Two-time killer dies by lethal injection

Wanda Jean Allen executed: Two-time killer dies by lethal injection

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Oklahoman

McALESTER, Okla. — Just hours after Gov. Frank Keating and the U.S. Supreme Court dashed her final hopes to live, two-time killer Wanda Jean Allen was strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal drugs Thursday night.

Allen, 41, was pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

“Two families were victimized by Wanda Jean Allen,” Attorney General Drew Edmondson told more than 50 reporters and photographers before the execution.

“Our thoughts are with them. They have waited a dozen years for justice in this case.”

Allen’s death marked the first execution of a woman in Oklahoma since statehood.

She joined a murderer’s row of 114 men electrocuted, hanged or poisoned by the state since 1915.

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” Allen said in her final words, her emotion-choked voice repeating the last words attributed to Jesus Christ executed on a cross 2,000 years ago.

“That’s it. Thank you.”

Twenty-four relatives of murder victim Gloria Leathers and manslaughter victim Detra Pettus traveled to McAlester for the execution. Many of those relatives watched the execution from behind a tinted window.

Read the full story.

Execution day starts early, lasts 18 hours

Execution day starts early, lasts 18 hours

Bobby Ross Jr.

Nine times this year and 28 times since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1977, Oklahoma has led prisoners to the execution chamber. Here’s a look behind the scenes on a recent execution day.

McALESTER – At 6 a.m., before the sun has time to scale the towering white walls of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Roger James Berget opens his eyes.

Not that Berget, Oklahoma inmate No. 98711, has any choice.

Eighteen hours before his scheduled execution, correctional officers stand over the condemned murderer and order him to wake up.

The officers strip-search him and make him shower in his shackles before giving him new clothes – a prison shirt and jeans – in which to die.

After he dresses, they lead him up the hill from the underground, death-row “H-Unit” to the main part of the penitentiary.

Inside the prison infirmary, he’s X-rayed to ensure he has no contraband on him – or in him – that he could use to hurt himself before the state can carry out his court-ordered lethal injection.

Berget, 39, a pale, thin man with a short, scruffy beard, a ponytail and tattooed arms, has spent the past seven days in a solitary “high-max” cell, away from fellow prisoners while awaiting his date with death.

After the X-ray, he’s taken back down the hill and placed in a special holding cell next to the execution chamber.

Flowers for Rick

In Ponca City, family members of murder victim Rick Lee Patterson, 33, awake with anticipation.

They’ve waited nearly 15 years for this day.

On Oct. 19, 1985, Patterson, a Moore Central Mid-High School math teacher, went to an Oklahoma City supermarket and became a random target.

Berget and co-defendant Mikell “Bulldog” Smith forced Patterson into the trunk of his car and drove to a deserted area.

They ordered him out of the car and shot him twice in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Patterson’s family doesn’t intend to miss Berget’s execution, despite a major regret.

The regret is that Smith, once labeled the most dangerous man in the penitentiary, escaped capital punishment.

An appeals court found evidentiary problems with his first trial and threw out his death sentence. He later pleaded guilty in exchange for a life term.

In prison, he has killed an inmate and stabbed a guard.

“This is only half,” Patterson’s sister, Diane Newlin, said of Berget’s execution. “There’s still the other half…. I hope he gets his in prison.”

Before making the three-hour drive to McAlester, Patterson’s father, brother, sister, sister-in-law and two nephews stop at a Ponca City cemetery.

They place fresh flowers on Patterson’s grave.

“It’s the best decorated grave there,” Newlin said.

Inmate’s last rights

For the inmate waiting to die, the final day affords certain privileges.

Unlimited collect phone calls. Visits with family, friends and attorneys. A last meal request.

H-Unit manager Robert Berry delivers Berget’s last meal shortly after noon.

On the verge of death, Berget eats two bacon cheeseburgers, a large order of onion rings, an extra-large root beer and a pint of chocolate ice cream.

At 3 p.m., Berget’s attorney, Steve Presson, and three colleagues – legal partner Robert Jackson, legal assistant Fera Shokat and Kim Marks from the public defender’s office – visit.

Presson can ask for a “contact,” or personal, visit with Berget. However, that would require Berget to undergo another full-body search and X-ray, which takes up to an hour.

Instead, the attorney visits his client through the visitors’ room glass, with each seated and talking over a phone.

Berget, in chains and leg irons, balances his phone on his shoulder.

The inmate’s last appeal was denied two days before. By the final day, Presson said he feels more like a social worker, a minister, a funeral director – a friend – than a lawyer.

“It’s a Hobson’s choice,” he said. “The state can’t execute a mentally incompetent man. Yet, what I’m doing at the last minute is helping him to keep his sanity.

“In a way, I’m helping the state execute him.”

Two-hour drive

At 5:10 p.m., Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson makes his way to the execution “media center” across the street from the penitentiary.

Berget has exhausted all his appeals, Edmondson tells the two reporters gathered so far.

On almost every execution day, Edmondson leaves Oklahoma City at midafternoon and drives two hours to meet with the victim’s family in McAlester.

Afterward, he conducts a short media briefing and then returns to the state Capitol, where he handles any last- minute legal issues. He leaves the Capitol only after getting word that the inmate is dead.

Typically, word comes by 12:30 a.m., and he’s home by 1, eating cookies and drinking warm milk to relieve his tensions.

“I would hope it never becomes so routine that tension is not in the air,” he said.

Outside the gate

At 9:28 p.m., a single protester dressed in black holds a lighted candle outside the penitentiary’s front gate.

By 10:30 p.m., an additional two dozen death-penalty opponents, including Berget’s attorneys, join her.

Led by the Rev. Bryan Brooks, a Catholic priest from Okmulgee, the protesters pray for the victim and the killer – and for an end to capital punishment, which they believe only adds to the bloodshed.

Nearby, a half-dozen lawn chairs sit outside Rob McDaniel’s 31-foot-long recreational vehicle, parked by the gate.

Each execution day, a dozen or so members of the Homicide Survivors Support Group meet at the Oklahoma City police station about 5:30 p.m. and pile into McDaniel’s RV.

They arrive about 7:30 and screw together a giant wooden collage covered with photographs, poems and news clips memorializing murder victims. They prop the “victims’ board” against the front of the RV.

“With all the focus on the killer, we want to remind the world that there was a victim years ago,” said McDaniel, wearing a white hat with “Remember the victims” in red letters. “The victim had a name, a face and a family.”

The homicide survivors eat chips and salsa and drink from a bottomless coffee pot.

“It looks like we’re here having a party, but we’re not,” group member Shelly Minton said. “We are a family, just because of the bond between us.”

The final hour

At 11 p.m., attorney Presson enters the prison grounds to await a van ride to witness the execution.

Upon his arrival, he’s given a television and a box containing snacks, shoes, books, pens, paper, stamps and a Bible – all of Berget’s worldly possessions.

He’ll mail the items to Berget’s family.

About 11:30 p.m., Warden Gary Gibson signals to Berget that it’s time to go.

As is customary, prison officials let the condemned inmate walk from the holding cell to the execution chamber on his own. A restraint team is available if the inmate puts up a fight, but most don’t, H-Unit manager Berry said.

Prison officials strap Berget to the gurney, then insert intravenous needles in each arm. They cover most of his body with a white sheet.

At 11:35 p.m., a correctional officer takes the four media witnesses into the H-Unit law library to await the execution. Each reporter is searched upon entering the building .

At precisely 11:45 p.m., clanking comes from death row. Inmates rattle their cell doors with their hands and bang them with their feet – a show of respect for the condemned man.

As the inevitable approaches, stress shows on Berget’s face.

The warden, noticing Berget’s nervousness, asks how he liked his cheeseburgers.

“Did you order out or have a prison hamburger?” Chaplain Don Perteet chimes in.

They were Sonic burgers, Berget responds, joking that it’d been a long time since he ordered take-out.

Execution time

Sliding bars shut behind the reporters as they walk up a gray, concrete hall to the witness room.

Blinds cover the windows to the execution chamber as the four reporters sit down on brown folding chairs.

Presson and five other witnesses chosen by Berget – Jackson, Shokat, Marks, trial attorney Jim Rowan and volunteer prison chaplain Charles Story – arrive. They sit in front of the media representatives.

The victim’s witnesses – his father, Raymond Patterson; his brother, Lloyd Patterson; and his sister, Diane Newlin – watch from behind tinted glass. Neither the inmate nor the media can see them.

State Corrections Director James Saffle and Corrections Board member Mike Roark enter the witness room last.

Saffle listens for a moment on a phone connected to the governor’s office. Then he picks up a phone to the execution chamber.

“Proceed with the execution,” Saffle tells the warden.

At 12:08 a.m., the blinds to the execution chamber rise.

“Do you have a last statement?” Warden Gibson, wearing a black suit with a gray tie and white shirt, asks Berget.

“No, sir,” the inmate replies, the microphone above his head carrying his voice into the witness room.

“Let the execution begin,” the warden proclaims.

In a separate room, three anonymous executioners, each paid $300, squeeze syringes that pump lethal drugs into Berget’s arms.

Sodium thiopental causes unconsciousness. Pancoronium bromide stops respiration. Potassium chloride stops the heart.

Chaplain Perteet stands at the head of Berget’s bed, an open Bible in his hands, as the execution starts.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens,” he reads aloud from Ecclesiastes 3. “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

He skips Verse 3 – which begins “A time to kill” – confessing later that he thought that part was inappropriate under the circumstances.

Berget exhales a few raspy breaths and quickly succumbs .

A gray-suited doctor with a stethoscope steps forward to check Berget’s pulse.

The exam takes a few seconds.

“Time of death,” the doctor says, “12:12 a.m.”

The blinds close again.

End of a long day

Minutes later, a hearse carries Berget’s body to the state medical examiner’s office in Oklahoma City.

The medical examiner will conduct toxicology tests to confirm the cause of death, then release the body within 12 to 24 hours. The body will be cremated, with the $500 expense contributed by attorneys, friends and death-penalty foes.

At 12:25 a.m., Patterson’s stunned-looking family members show up at the media center to give their impressions.

Berget’s death was too easy, they tell the reporters.

“He had a smile on his face before he shut his eyes and he had a smile on his face afterward,” said Patterson’s brother, Lloyd.

“Electric chair, gas chamber, getting hung, firing squad – if it was me, I’d think twice about it. That’s just nothing to go in there and fall asleep.”

Berget’s attorney said his client had planned to express his remorse to the victim’s family and ask forgiveness for the pain he caused. But as happened at his clemency hearing, no words came out when the time came.

“When the curtains went up and everybody was staring at him, he froze,” Presson said.

At 12:32 a.m., Patterson’s father, Raymond, announces that he’s exhausted and going home. It’s been a long day.