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August 31, 2019

Another indication from Oklahoma of how jurors are keeping the death penalty mostly dormant

With more than 100 executions in the modern capital era, Oklahoma used to be one of the most active death penalty states.  But this new local article, headlined "Jury deadlock latest example of death penalty's decline," highlights how the state has functionally (though not formally) turned away from capital punishments.  Here is an excerpt:

Deputy David Wade died in service to you," District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas told jurors Thursday in asking for the death penalty for his murderer, Nathan LeForce. "Let the punishment fit the crime."

The deputy had been making sure an evicted couple was moving out of a rural residence near Mulhall on April 18, 2017, when LeForce — who was visiting there — pulled out a gun from a piece of furniture and began firing.  The first shot hit the deputy in the vest, spinning him around and knocking him to the ground.  LeForce moved closer, shooting the deputy in the arm, armpit, back and, finally, the mouth, according to evidence presented at the trial.  LeForce fled in the deputy's patrol truck.

Calling the shooting cold-blooded, wicked and vile, the district attorney asked jurors if it did not merit the death penalty than what does. To choose another punishment, she said, would not honor or value the deputy's service.

Jurors, though, struggled with the decision.  After four hours, the foreman told District Judge Phillip Corley they were split 10-2. The judge instructed them to deliberate further.  He told jurors he would decide the sentence if they couldn't agree but explained his options could not include death. About 90 minutes later, jurors reported they were at an impasse, 11-1.  The judge thanked them and discharged them from duty.

The deadlock is the latest example of the death penalty's decline.  Death sentences have become increasingly rare in Oklahoma and nationwide as opposition to the punishment grows.  In May, New Hampshire became the 21st state to abolish the death penalty. Last week, the Ohio House speaker told reporters he's become "less and less supportive" of the death penalty....

Nationwide, a death sentence was imposed only 42 times last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In Oklahoma, only one death sentence was imposed last year and only one has been imposed so far this year. Executions remain on hold in the state while officials develop a protocol to use nitrogen gas.  The last lethal injection in Oklahoma murderer was on Jan. 15, 2015.

The deadlock Thursday night angered relatives of the victim and upset the sheriff and the almost two dozen deputies in the courtroom. It frustrated prosecutors, who believe the majority of jurors favored death.

August 31, 2019 at 08:36 AM | Permalink


It should not need to be a unanimous decision. Even 10-2 should be plenty.

HOWEVER, we do have a problem with prosecutors who get convictions of people they have reason to suspect are innocent, including in death penalty cases. That problem needs to be addressed. Removal of absolute prosecutorial immunity, which the Supreme Court appears to have conjured out of nowhere, would be an excellent start.

Is it even possible to remove absolute immunity by legislation?

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Sep 1, 2019 12:20:13 PM

Mr Jockush, Why not 7-5?

Posted by: anon1 | Sep 1, 2019 11:11:10 PM

It's a question on which reasonable minds can differ. I would want a strong majority to sentence to death.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Sep 2, 2019 7:24:45 PM

10 - 2 for death,
9 - 3 for lwop,
8 - 4 for life,
7 - 5 for 50 years

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Sep 3, 2019 2:24:46 PM

I don't think much about capital punishment. In fact, I don't think many Americans think much about capital punishment. Here, as I am forced to think deeply about the matter, I often find myself thinking 9 out of 10 times I am probably against the death penalty.

What purpose does it serve? Of our discussion of the theories of punishment, retribution and deterrence comes to mind.

As far as retribution is concerned, he killed so he should be killed. But every murderer does not receive capital punishment. I'd even venture to say that most don't. Retribution alone wouldn't fit the bill anyway or anyone that commits a crime that we deem fits capital punishment would be dead.

Deterrence is met because if the murderer is dead, he cannot kill anyone else. The problem with this theory is most violent offenders are lower on the recidivism rates than non-violent offenders. So the probability of a murderer recommitting a murder once released is less likely than them being a productive citizen.

These are things we must grapple with as we decide to ends someones life. If we are to be of the view that no one under any circumstances are to play God over someones life, then who are we to do it even after that person played God (and ended someones life)?

Posted by: James White | Sep 8, 2019 9:16:41 PM

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