Oklahoma's execution spree slowed — due in part to a new AG — but the killing continues
Anthony Sanchez is scheduled to be executed this week. Despite steps Oklahoma’s attorney general took to slow the execution pace, a reminder that it has not stopped.
Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Anthony Sanchez on Thursday.
It would be Oklahoma’s third execution this year, and the 18th execution in the U.S. this year. It would also be the first execution in America since James Barnes was executed by the state of Florida nearly 50 days ago, on Aug. 3.
Sanchez was convicted of the murder of Juli Busken, a university student, in 1996. He decided not to seek clemency and had stopped working with his previously appointed lawyers despite maintaining his innocence — a decision that has raised questions about the spiritual advisor to Sanchez and other death-row inmates.
[Update, 11:30 p.m.: A new lawyer is working on Sanchez’s case pro bono. Erin Allen told Law Dork, “The two habeas attorneys were allowed to withdraw with only weeks left before the execution. The file consisting of fifty some boxes only came into my possession on Friday of last week.“ The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is considering requests filed Sunday that include a request for a stay of execution. A three-judge panel of the appeals court ordered Oklahoma to respond to the request, and the state responded Monday to oppose the request.]
The fact Sanchez’s execution is slated to be the third execution in Oklahoma this year is notable. The number was supposed to be much higher, with 10 executions originally scheduled for the state this year. Instead, there is only one more Oklahoma execution even scheduled for the rest of 2023.
Oklahoma had been on a plan to carry out 25 executions in 29 months, with 10 each scheduled for 2023 and 2024. Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, and then-Attorney General John O’Connor, also a Republican, both strongly supported the execution spree, which began in August 2022.
Then, three things happened.
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One, reality hit them. Any scheduled execution can face legal or public difficulties, because of the people who actually end up being sentenced to death. The cases are complicated, and the people eventually scheduled for executions often had questionable trials (i.e., ineffective assistance of counsel) and/or have a personal background that makes their execution questionable. It’s not at all rare for a single execution schedule to change or get delayed. Putting so many back-to-back was almost inevitably going to multiply the complications, which then could have effects on other executions.
Two, some of the cases quickly ran into trouble. John Hanson was on the list of 25, but he is not even in the state’s custody. The state tried to get him out of federal custody, where he is serving a life sentence, and the Bureau of Prisons denied the request. A lawsuit followed and the state lost; Hanson remains in federal custody. Then, there was Richard Glossip. Questions have surrounded Glossip’s death sentence for years and even Stitt granted him multiple reprieves to address his innocence claims.
Three, Gentner Drummond won election as attorney general and took over in January 2023. He ran, in part, as a Republican who would be independent of Stitt. His time in office has slowed down the pace of executions even more, the result of a specific request to increase the length of time between each execution in the spree.
Then, there’s the Glossip case.
Drummond’s election has been particularly important there. He has taken the position in court that “Glossip’s trial was unfair and unreliable.” When the Oklahoma courts wouldn’t stop the scheduled execution and Stitt wouldn’t issue another reprieve, Drummond sided with Glossip at the U.S. Supreme Court in asking for a stay of execution. The Supreme Court agreed to put the execution on hold while it decides whether to hear Glossip’s appeals.
The two petitions seeking Supreme Court review from Glossip’s team — one of which Drummond agrees should be taken up by the justices — are due to be considered at the justice’s first private conference of the fall. The “long conference,” as it is known because it’s when the justices consider all of the petitions seeking review from over the summer, is set for Sept. 26, and the court will release the orders from that conference at the start of the day Oct. 2, the first day of the court’s new term.
To be clear, Drummond is no death-penalty opponent. He issued extremely supportive statements after both the clemency denial and subsequent July execution of Jemaine Cannon.
It remains to be seen whart Drummond’s ultimate record on the ultimate punishment will be, but he has certainly changed — and at least extended — the lives of several people who the prior attorney general had been working to see executed quickly. Dummond has been willing to raise reasonable questions about the process. And, in Glossip’s case, he has even been willing to take the extremely rare stance of being a state attorney general asking the Supreme Court to keep a man in his state from being executed.
And yet, for Anthony Sanchez, it appears likely that his execution will go forward this week absent an unexpected development — a reminder that the existence of the death penalty and a death row in any jurisdiction can mean that, at some point, the state is likely to legally kill a person.
The end of cash bail in Illinois
Finally this morning, be sure to read Bryce Covert’s article at Bolts on why Monday is a very big day — not just in Illinois, but for criminal legal reform — as the Illinois law ending cash bail finally goes into effect.
As Covert explains, “For the advocates who lobbied in favor of the law, some of the hardest work now begins to make sure that it actually reduces jail populations.“
Read the whole piece.
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