• Oklahoma voters will be asked to add death penalty to state constitution

    By: Shae Rozzi

    Updated:

    Quick Facts:

    • State question 776 on the November ballot asks voters whether they want to add the death penalty to the constitution
    • Also would ask if state should allow for alternate methods to be used should the current method of lethal injection be ruled invalid or unconstitutional.
    • FOX23 Shae Rozzi investigates what will change depending on the outcome of the vote and the new obstacle that could prevent future lethal injections.
    • See who says our state is going backwards and how they feel the money could be better spent preventing murders on FOX23 News at 5 Friday. 

     

    While a national movement to abolish the death penalty is picking up support nationwide, Oklahomans will vote on adding the death penalty to the state's constitution.
     
    FOX23’s Shae Rozzi looked into what this means if it passes or if it fails and how the death penalty could be changing in our state.
     
    Executions are on hold in Oklahoma for at least five months following a grand jury report released Thursday about the investigation into why the wrong drug was used in the 2015 lethal injection of Charles Warner.
     
    Warner complained he felt his body was on fire before dying. The execution of Richard Glossip was stopped at the last minute when the state discovered it once again received the wrong drug.
     
    “I'm not a fan of lethal injection. I believe it's messy,” said State Rep. John Paul Jordan.
     
    Jordan told FOX23 he is a fan of keeping the death penalty and is one of a handful of lawmakers who fought to put state question 776 on the November ballot.

    READ MORE: Grand jury report released on execution issues

    “It's something reserved for the most heinous crimes,” he said.
     
    When voters are casting a ballot for president, they’ll also be asked to vote to add the death penalty to the state's constitution. And to clarify if one method is declared invalid or unconstitutional that another method will be used.
     
    “Lethal injection is first, then nitrous hypoxia, then it's electric chair and then it's firing squad,” said Brady Henderson, with the Oklahoma chapter of the ACLU.
     
    “What we ought to be talking about is getting rid of the death penalty … not figure out better ways for the state to kill its citizens,” Henderson said.

    DOWNLOAD: List of Oklahoma death row inmates
     
    Henderson told FOX23 the state is headed in the wrong direction when it comes to the death penalty.
     
    “We are definitely going backwards,” he said.

    He points to the costs, the mistakes and the number of innocent people locked up.
     
    FOX23 found at least 10 innocent people freed from death row in Oklahoma according to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
     
    Oklahoma ranks in the top 10 in the nation in terms of the number of known wrongful convictions of innocent people according to the Oklahoma Innocence Project
     
    OIP just last week helped overturn two life sentences.
     
    FOX23 was there for an emotional moment when Malcom Scott picked up his belongings from the prison where he spent two decades for a crime he didn't commit.
     
    And there’s another obstacle: More drug makers are backing away from making drugs that can be used in lethal injections. Pfizer is the latest to join the movement.
     
    Jordan prefers Oklahoma move away from lethal injection and use nitrous hypoxia instead.
     
    “Where basically a person would suffocate from breathing in nitrogen,” Jordan said.
     
    Both sides do support the forming of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission. Former judges, prosecutors, public defenders, advocates and elected officials are spending a year studying our state’s death penalty process starting from an arrest with support from The Constitution Project.
     
    It’s unclear when their report comes out in a year and what if anything will change for the 47 inmates on Oklahoma’s death row right now according to a list FOX23 got from the Department of Corrections.
     
    “What does it mean to add the death penalty to the constitution? What difference will it make?” Rozzi asked.


    “What it does it just means that up here at the Legislature it can't be eliminated on a whim or by mistake,” Jordan said.
     
    If the vote fails, nothing changes. So why is the vote it necessary?
     
    “We always hear Oklahoma is a pro death penalty state so it is something on the ballot to say okay we're going to put our money where our mouth is,” Jordan said.
     
    “Basically this is probably the state's most expensive public opinion poll in our history,” Henderson said.
     
    The ACLU said Oklahoma would be better off using life sentences instead of the death penalty and using the money saved on education and programs to help prevent crime.

     

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