A death sentence is rare for Tulsa County, but it does happen

TULSA, Okla. — Someone being sentenced to death for a crime in Tulsa County is a rare occasion usually linked to the most heinous of crimes. However, some of the worst murders in Tulsa County history lead to life in prison without parole because the defendant either accepted a plea deal, or the prosecutions hands were tied about Supreme Court precedent in relation to the age of the defendant.

Four people currently living are on death row either at the state or Federal level, and another convict was sentenced to death on the state level but because of the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision is having to be retried in Federal court.

The most recent conviction to receive a death sentence from Tulsa County is Raymond Johnson. In 2007, Johnson killed his 24-year-old girlfriend and her 7-month-old baby and set their house on fire with their bodies inside. Johnson was sentenced to death in July 2009.

Since then, there have been horrendous crimes of the same scale that have taken place such as the murders carried out by the Bever brothers of their family in their Broken Arrow home, and the killing of Broken Arrow Teacher Shane Anderson by Deyonte Green who also would rape an elderly woman in the same crime spree.

In both of those cases, if an adult had carried out those actions, prosecutors could have and likely would have sought the death penalty, but instead, the eldest brother Robert Bever and Green were sentenced to life in prison without parole. (Younger brother Michael would be given life with parole.) Robert Bever took a plea deal to cooperate with the prosecution in his younger brother’s trial, and prosecutors took death off the table so the surviving sister would not have to experience two separate trials in which she would relive the events of that night over and over on the witness stand.

Green was formally sentenced by a Tulsa County judge after a jury found him guilty.

The Supreme Court has ruled that a juvenile offender, even if they are being tried as an adult, cannot face the death penalty. In a recent ruling, the high court has ruled that the threshold for locking up a juvenile being tried as an adult should be lowered, and the court no longer has to find a juvenile (like Green) “permanently incorrigible and irreparably corrupt” in order to issue a life without parole sentence.

In most murder cases that come before Tulsa County courts for first degree murder where some kind of premeditation of the crime has taken place, the common sentence is life in prison without parole.

Even in cases where someone is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, Oklahoma considers first degree murder what is called an “85% crime” which means, 85 percent of the sentence imposed must be served before the convict becomes parole eligible. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections calculates out “life” as 45 years for the sake of parole. That means someone who is sentenced to life with parole must serve a mandatory 36 years of their sentence before they can even be eligible for parole, but eligibility does not mean someone is guaranteed their release.

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After the Supreme Court ruled death by electrocution as unconstitutional, Oklahoma legalized death by lethal injection in 1977. The first person put to death by this means was executed in 1990. 116 people total have been killed by lethal injection since the process began, but only 17 of those put to death have been from Tulsa County. While other counties have also contributed to the total people not just on death row but put to death, Oklahoma County has overwhelmingly been where death sentences have been issued. Currently 46 people are on death row in Oklahoma.

The following people were convicted of first degree murder in Tulsa County and are pending on state or Federal death row:

  • Raymond Johnson - Convicted in 2007 for the killing of his 24-year-old girlfriend and her 7-month-old baby, and then setting the house he left the bodies in on fire. Currently remains on death row at the state penitentiary in McAlester.
  • Wade Lay - Convicted in 2005 for killing a bank security guard during a robbery. Lay was set to be executed in January 2022, but a last minute appeal about the lethal injection protocols caused a delay in addition to questions about Lay’s mental health. Lay remains on death row at the state penitentiary in McAlester.
  • Jemaine Cannon- Convicted in 1996 for the stabbing of his girlfriend. He has exhausted all of his appeals and awaits and execution date. His execution date has been previously postponed over questions about the state’s lethal injection process. He remains on death row at the state penitentiary in McAlester.
  • John F Hanson - Convicted both in 2001 and 2006 for a crime spree across Tulsa County in which he killed two during a series of armed robberies. He then dumped one of his victim’s bodies in a rural area. He has exhausted all of his appeals and remains on death row at the state penitentiary in McAlester.
  • Clarance Goode Jr. - Convicted in 2005 of killing two adults and a child in Owasso while assisting a friend during a very heated family dispute. However, because of the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling, Goode is being retried in Federal court. Goode remains on death row in McAlester while his case is still pending in Federal court.