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March 3, 2012

Interesting discussion of women and the death penalty in Oklahoma

As detailed on this DPIC page, Oklahoma is tied with Texas for the most executions of women (three) in the modern death penalty era.  For that reason and others, I found interesting this local story, headlined "Women rarely given death penalty in Oklahoma for crimes," discussing the intersection of gender and the death penalty in the Sooner State.  Here are excerpts:

“Experts have been hesitant to say for sure whether there's gender bias going on, but certainly women are rarely executed,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty [Information] Center....

Dieter said women who committed these types of crimes in the early 20th century might have been dealt with outside of the criminal justice system and thought to be mentally unstable. “Mothers did kill children and husbands, but they were dealt with sort of outside. It was unexpected. It was dealt with quietly, perhaps, through a mental facility,” he said. “Because it was so rare, that was something that was supposed to teach a lesson to deter other crimes.”

To receive the death penalty, Dieter said, women often must commit some type of aggravated offense. Women are more likely to kill relatives or spouses, but less likely to commit heinous crimes, he said.

About 10 percent of murders are committed by women, but only 2 percent of death sentences are given to women. Even then there's a chance of overturning the sentence, so even fewer women are executed, Dieter said. “Oklahoma has had 97 executions (since 1976). But for three of them to be women in the modern era, that's 3 percent. Nationally, it's less than 1 percent,” he said.

Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said Oklahoma is No. 1 in the nation for the number of women incarcerated on a per-capita basis. He said the state has about 2,600 female offenders. Of that number, 122 women are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole and 53 are serving life without the possibility of parole, Massie said....

Oklahoma currently has one woman on death row — Brenda Andrew — who was sentenced to die for the Nov. 20, 2001, fatal shooting of her husband, Oklahoma City ad executive Rob Andrew....

Wanda Jean Allen, a black woman convicted of killing her lesbian lover in 1988, was the first woman executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma. It was January 2001. She was the first woman put to death in the state since 1903, four years before statehood.

Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Elliott, the prosecutor on the case, said she sought the death penalty because Allen had a prior assault and manslaughter case. Throughout her 27 years with the district attorney's office, Elliott has handled many death penalty cases for men but only one for a woman.

Dieter said he thinks jurors sometimes give women the death penalty if they can't relate to her or the crime she committed. Some jurors might see women as victims, he said.

Elliott disagreed, saying the jury's decision is often based on the nature of the offense and the defendant's criminal history. “It's hard to seek the death penalty against anybody. The vast majority of citizens here don't want to kill anybody,” Elliott said. “If you're like the average person, it's difficult to ask anyone to do that job.

March 3, 2012 at 01:56 PM | Permalink

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Comments

(mytemp001): "[I]f there is a [bias] it should be corrected to make sure more cold-blooded murders die, not less."
Charlotte Observer

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 5, 2012 9:11:32 AM

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