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March 17, 2013

Death penalty falling, but not in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — States use the death penalty less and less often across the country, and some have even dropped it altogether, but Oklahoma likely won’t join the ranks of those that have outright abolished it.

The annual number of executions in the U.S. has fallen by more than half over the past 15 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and 17 states no longer allow capital punishment of murder. But while the number of Oklahoma executions has also fallen, it has put to death more convicted prisoners than all but two other states, and there seems to be little chance to change that.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s a lot of support for the death penalty in Oklahoma,” said state Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, one of the few state legislators publicly opposed to capital punishment.

A 2011 report from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation found nearly 90 percent of Oklahomans supported the death penalty, and spokespeople for both Gov. Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Friday the officials support the penalty for especially heinous crimes.

Johnson’s proposal this year to study the death penalty’s cost and impact on crime — frequent points of criticism from the penalty’s opponents — quietly died when Sen. Anthony Sykes, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, refused to hear the bill. Calls to Sykes’s office for comment Friday weren’t returned.

Oklahoma has imposed roughly 100 executions since 1976, nearly all in the past two decades and at a greater rate, when compared to population, than Texas, long considered in the forefront of executions. Almost 60 people, including one woman, are currently on death row.

Steven Ray Thacker, convicted of three murders, last Tuesday became the first person to be executed this year in Oklahoma and the fifth in the country. Less than a week later, the Le Flore County District Attorney requested the death penalty against Johnathen Thacker — no relation to Steven Thacker — for the death of an Arkansas woman whose body was found in a pond near Pocola.

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