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Oklahoma GOP AG slows state's execution spree, as Arizona Dems halt executions for review
Also: Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow people in prison to vote.
Oklahoma no longer plans to execute 25 people over two-and-a-half years, as was announced last summer. The state is not stopping its killing, but they are planning on taking a substantially longer time to schedule the executions.
In an order Tuesday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set new execution dates for what is grossly described as “Phase Two” of the state’s execution spree.
The change follows a request from newly elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond, a Republican, to spread the executions apart. This was not, he made clear, a move opposing the death penalty or the carrying out of the executions. It was, instead, about the toll killing people takes on the staff.
“[T]he current pace of executions is unsustainable in the long run, as it is unduly burdening the DOC and its personnel,” Drummond wrote in his request. “Accordingly, the State requests that the dates be reset with sixty days between executions, rather than thirty.”
Four of the 25 executions have already taken place, including one this year. One of the remaining 21 people who had faced an execution date, John Hanson, is not in state custody, and a new execution date was not sought for him after Oklahoma’s unsuccessful attempt to get him transferred from federal custody to state custody for a December 2022 execution date. As such it appears, for now, that Oklahoma is looking to continue with 20 more executions.
The court’s Tuesday order set the next seven execution dates. However, because of the increased time in between executions, that means just four more executions are scheduled for the remainder of 2023. Under the old schedule, all seven of these executions would have been set for this year, as well as a few others.
Under the new timeline, though, the seventh date isn’t set until June 2024. At that point, even if all of those executions go ahead as planned, there would still be 13 execution dates to be set. Under this timeline, those dates would run through mid-to-late 2026, depending on whether the month delay in between “phases” that had been used is kept in place.
This all matters for a few reasons.
First, it is a sign that — as he ran on — Drummond does not plan to simply be a rubber-stamp for re-elected Gov. Kevin Stitt. Second, it also could be a sign that Drummond might not be as interested in aggressively supporting executions as his predecessor, who eagerly pushed forward the rapid-pace killing spree — including the losing attempt to sue the feds into turning over custody of Hanson.
Third, and most fundamentally, it means these people condemned to be killed by the state will have more life. And, finally, it means there is more time for one or more of these people facing execution dates to pursue efforts to challenge or otherwise avert their executions.
Law Dork with Chris Geidner is independent, reader-supported legal and political journalism that seeks to hold government and other public officials accountable. Support this reporting by becoming a free or paid subscriber today.
MEANWHILE, IN ARIZONA: While the timing of the executions in Oklahoma has been slowed, executions will be continuing to take place. Arizona, on the other hand, has halted executions for the time being following the election of a Democratic governor and attorney general.
This matters for the obvious reasons, but also because Arizona was one of the leading states for carrying out executions in 2022, with three executions. (Only Texas and Oklahoma carried out more executions in 2022, at five each.)
Newly elected Gov. Katie Hobbs, in one of her early acts in office, issued an executive order appointing a death penalty independent review commissioner to examine the state’s purchasing of lethal execution drugs and gas chamber chemicals, its execution procedures and protocols, and staffing plans for executions. The commissioner is required, under the order, to issue a report with recommendations to Hobbs following the review.
In part as a result of the executive order, newly elected Attorney General Kris Mayes on Jan. 20 moved to withdraw the one upcoming execution date request sought by the state for Aaron Gunches. (Gunches, who had earlier requested that an execution date be set for himself, also requested that the date be withdrawn earlier this month.)
The moves will stop executions for the time in the state, a result that almost certainly would not have happened had Hobbs and Mayes lost their elections.
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VOTING RIGHTS BILL: In Oregon, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing Thursday on S.B. 579, which would allow people convicted of a felony and currently in prison or other correctional facilities to vote.
The Oregon Justice Resource Center is backing the bill, calling it “one of our priority bills this session.”
As the organization stated on Twitter, “Citizenship doesn’t end at the prison gate and nor should voting rights.”
The move to end felon disenfranchisement has received more attention in recent years, following long (and ongoing) efforts to end disenfranchisement of those people who completed prison sentences and returned to their communities. As those efforts bore success, some advocates have moved to seeking an end to all criminal-record-based disenfranchisement.
Maine and Vermont had been the only jurisdictions that allowed people convicted of a felony and currently incarcerated to vote until 2020, when Washington, DC, passed legislation to do the same.
This year, Oregon could become the first jurisdiction outside of the East Coast and New England to make the move if S.B. 579 moves forward.
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