An Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals judge said Department of Corrections staff tasked with carrying out the state’s backlog of executions need to “suck it up.” 

Judge Gary Lumpkin made the remarks during a hearing Tuesday on the state’s request to further delay the time between executions from 60 days to 90 days to reduce strain on staff. 

The court is expected to issue a ruling at a later date.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and Department of Corrections say the change would combat trauma, staffing shortages, and ensure the state doesn’t have another botched execution. The agencies filed a motion in January that said the current pace of executions isn’t sustainable.

But Lumpkin said he isn’t buying into the “sympathy stuff.”

Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Gary Lumpkin PHOTO PROVIDED

Lumpkin told agency leaders they need to “man up.”

“We set a reasonable amount of time to start this out, and y’all keep pushing it and pushing it and pushing it,” Lumpkin told Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond at the hearing. “Who’s to say next month you won’t come in and say I need 120 days? This stuff needs to stop, and people need to suck it up, realize they have a hard job to do, and get it done in a timely, proficient, professional way.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals set an aggressive execution schedule in 2021 with plans to execute 25 prisoners in less than three years, eliminating 58% of Oklahoma’s death row.

The court granted Drummond’s previous request to slow the execution schedule in January 2023 to one every 60 days after former corrections officials penned a letter with concerns of another botched execution if the state didn’t slow down. 

Drummond conducted interviews with Department of Corrections staff that found they barely had time for a break between executions before they had to start practicing for the next one. Staff perform mock executions to ensure nothing goes wrong during a real one. 

The mock executions were within earshot of staff offices, visiting rooms and prisoner’s cells. Eleven people have been executed in Oklahoma since Oct. 28, 2021, and there are still 13 more people on death row who are awaiting execution dates.

Lumpkin said 30 days is more than enough time between executions. Drummond said he wants the state to avoid botched executions. An autopsy revealed that the state had used the wrong drugs to to put Charles Warner to death by lethal injection in 2015 and the state imposed a more than six year moratorium on executions. 

“I do not want, as the chief law officer, to oversee a failed execution. I am present with every execution. I look the defendant in the eye as he dies,” Drummond said. “I look the men and women that administer those lethal injections in the eye after they’ve administered it, and I have sympathy for the strain on them.”

State officials have also asked the court to set execution dates for six more men on death row who have exhausted all of their appeals.

Prisoners awaiting execution dates: 

  • Richard Norman Rojem was convicted in 2003 in Washita County of raping and murdering his 7-year-old stepdaughter in 1984.
  • Emmanuel Littlejohn was convicted in 2000 in Oklahoma County of first-degree murder for his part in a fatal robbery that killed Kenneth Meers in 1992. Littlejohn didn’t pull the trigger, but was prosecuted for the killing under Oklahoma’s felony murder law. The man who pulled the trigger, Glenn Bethany, was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 
  • Kevin Ray Underwood was convicted in 2008 in McClain County for the murder of 10-year-old Jamie Rose Bolin, his neighbor in Purcell. He blamed the murder on his cannibalistic fantasies. 
  • Wendell Arden Grissom was convicted in Blaine County and sentenced to death in 2008 for the 2005 murder of Amber Matthews.
  • Tremane Wood was convicted and sentenced to death in Oklahoma County in 2004 for the 2002 fatal robbery that killed Ronald Wipf in Oklahoma City.
  • Kendrick Antonio Simpson was convicted in 2007 of murdering Glen Palmer and Anthony Jones after a fight at Fritzi’s hip-hop club in Oklahoma City in 2006. Simpson left the club but ran into the victims again at 7-Eleven, where he fatally shot the men in their car.

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