Capital punishment in Oklahoma

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Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Oklahoma.

The state has executed the second largest number of convicts in the United States (after Texas) since re-legalization following Gregg v. Georgia in 1976.[1] Oklahoma also has the highest number of executions per capita in the country.[2]

Oklahoma was the first jurisdiction in the world to adopt lethal injection as method of execution.[3]

Legal process[edit]

When the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the sentence is decided by the jury and must be unanimous.

In case of a hung jury during the penalty phase of the trial, a life sentence is issued, even if a single juror opposed death (there is no retrial).[4]

Capital crimes[edit]

In Oklahoma, first-degree murder is punishable by death in the following circumstances:[5]

  1. The defendant was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person;
  2. The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person;
  3. The person committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employed another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration;
  4. The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel;
  5. The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution;
  6. The murder was committed by a person while serving a sentence of imprisonment on conviction of a felony;
  7. The existence of a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; or
  8. The victim of the murder was a peace officer, or correctional employee of an institution under the control of the Department of Corrections, and such person was killed while in performance of official duty.

Oklahoma statute books still provide the death penalty for first-degree rape, extortionate kidnapping, and rape or forcible sodomy of a victim under 14 where the defendant had a prior conviction of sexual abuse of a person under 14[6][7][8] but the death penalty for these crimes is no longer constitutional since the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Louisiana.


Under the state Constitution, the Governor of Oklahoma may grant a commutation of the death sentence, but only with advice and consent of the five-member Pardon and Parole Board.[9] Two inmates post-Furman had their death sentences commuted.[10]

In earlier years Governor Lee Cruce commuted every death sentence imposed during his administration (1911–1915).[10]


Oklahoma is the only state allowing more than two methods of execution in its statutes, providing lethal injection, nitrogen hypoxia, electrocution and firing squad to be used in that order in the event that all earlier methods are unavailable. The nitrogen option was added by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2015 and has never been used in a judicial execution, though it is routinely used to give a painless death in animal euthanasia.[11]

On December 16, 2010, Oklahoma became the first American state to use pentobarbital, in the execution of John David Duty.[12] In 2014, Oklahoma placed scheduled executions on hold until the state's Department of Corrections implemented eleven proposed improvements in protocols governing capital punishment. The review of the lethal injection administration process resulted from the protracted 33 minute execution of Clayton Darrell Lockett in which a doctor and a paramedic failed nearly a dozen times to administer an IV with lethal drugs.[13][14] Executions resumed on January 15, 2015 with the execution of Charles Frederick Warner by lethal injection.

In May 2016, an Oklahoma grand jury recommended the state to use nitrogen hypoxia as its sole method of execution rather than as a mere backup, after experts testified that the method would be painless, easy and "inexpensive".[15]

On November 8, 2016, the people of Oklahoma voted 67-33 in favor of a legislatively referred state constitutional amendment strengthening capital punishment, providing that "any method of execution shall be allowed, unless prohibited by the United States Constitution".[16]

Death row[edit]

Oklahoma's death row for male inmates is located at "H" unit at Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP), where is also the state execution chamber. For female prisoners, the location is Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. Oklahoma's current policy is to transfer female inmates to OSP for their actual execution. Oklahoma currently has 48 male inmates and one female inmate on death row.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Executions in the United States, 1608-1976, By State Archived April 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ State Execution Rates
  3. ^ A Guilty Man
  4. ^ "§21-701.11. Instructions - Jury findings of aggravating circumstance.". Retrieved June 2, 2016. 
  5. ^ Oklahoma Statutes § 21-701.12
  6. ^ 21 Okl. St. Ann. § 1114 and 21 Okl. St. Ann. § 1115
  7. ^ 21 Okl. St. Ann. § 745(A)
  8. ^ 10 Okl. St. Ann. § 7115(I)
  9. ^ "Section VI-10". Retrieved 2016-07-21. 
  10. ^ a b "Clemency | Death Penalty Information Center". Retrieved 2016-07-21. 
  11. ^ The Dawn of a New Form of Capital Punishment, Time, April 17, 2015
  12. ^ Mims, Divina (December 16, 2010). "Death row inmate executed using pentobarbital in lethal injection". CNN. Retrieved December 16, 2010. 
  13. ^ Brandes, Heidi (5 September 2014). "Oklahoma to halt execution until new protocols in place: governor". Reuters. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Stern, Jeffrey E. (June 2015). "The Cruel and Unusual Execution of Clayton Locket; The untold story of Oklahoma's botched lethal injection—and America’s intensifying fight over the death penalty". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-10-05. 
  15. ^ "Oklahoma grand jury issues critical report on execution drug mix-up". Retrieved June 2, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Oklahoma Votes to Add Death Penalty to Its Constitution". Retrieved April 9, 2017. 

External links[edit]