OKLAHOMA CITY —
“That type of activity, that type of remorseless killing of another human being, deserves consideration of the ultimate penalty,” said Jeff Smith, the DA. His office currently has three pending death-penalty cases, probably more than at any point in his 27-year career, Smith said.
But Oklahoma is also part of the national trend downward in executions. There were 43 executions last year, according to the information center, down from a peak of 98 in 1999. Oklahoma’s peak of 18 executions came in 2001; last year the state had just six.
Maryland is on track to become the 18th state to abolish the death penalty as soon as its governor signs a bill passed by the House Friday, and the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, Richard Dieter, said more than a dozen other states are also considering doing so.
Increased awareness of wrongful convictions could be playing a role, he said, as well as the high costs of death penalty cases, which often bring seemingly endless appeals from defendants, and other factors.
“People have a little less confidence in the death penalty,” Dieter said. “It might get the wrong person. And so the safer path is to convict the person but not sentence them to death.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said he and other Oklahoma prosecutors were taking longer, closer looks at potentially death-eligible cases, which come in weekly in Oklahoma City.
“We look at death penalty cases harder than we ever have in the past to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the right reasons,” Prater said. “The death penalty needs to be sought in cases that are considered to be the worst of the worst.”
Lydia Polley, co-chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, went even further, saying more Oklahomans oppose the penalty than might be expected.
“People don’t want to bring it up because it’s a very emotional and a very difficult issue,” she said. “My guess is that there are a lot of people that are in the closet and would say they don’t support the death penalty.”