‘It will be intense’: Board prepares for clemency requests following execution restart

“It will be like nothing you have ever seen before on these death penalty cases,” Allen McCall told his fellow board members during Monday's meeting.

“I’m telling you, it will be intense. It is going to take it out of you.”

Donate
Members of the Pardon and Parole Board look over a list of commutation requests during a meeting in Oklahoma City on March 9, 2020. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board, which has been largely remade by first-term Gov. Kevin Stitt and has shown an increased willingness to approve commutation and parole requests, is preparing to receive new death row clemency petitions after state leaders recently announced they will restart executions. 

Following a five-year pause in executions, Attorney General Mike Hunter said last month the state was prepared to begin executions as early as this year.  

At Monday’s board meeting, Pardon and Parole Board Director Steven Bickley told members he wanted to schedule six training sessions before the end of summer on how the clemency process works, the psychological impact and how to prepare for a hearing. 

“I have been pretty much thinking about this non stop (since last month’s announcement),” Bickley said. 

A request for clemency to the board is a person’s final chance to overturn an execution and a request can only be made once an execution date has been set. If clemency is approved by the board, it goes to the governor for final approval. 

The state paused executions five years ago following multiple complications, including the use of the wrong drug.

State officials have said nitrogen hypoxia can now be used, but Hunter announced last month the necessary drugs are available for lethal injection to resume. 

With his announcement on Feb. 13, Hunter said a 150-day stay was in effect, meaning executions could begin in five months. 

But attorneys for multiple death row inmates have challenged the 150-day countdown, claiming the state’s updated protocol is not sufficient. 

Forty-seven inmates are currently on death row, 27 of which have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to have an execution date set. 

Oklahoma has executed 113 individuals since 1973, according to Death Penalty Information Center. Just four clemency requests have been approved. 

“It will be like nothing you have ever seen before on these death penalty cases,” Allen McCall told his fellow board members during Monday’s meeting.

“I’m telling you, it will be intense. It is going to take it out of you.”

Appointed to the board in 2017, McCall is a retired judge who has sentenced multiple people to death during his career.

Over the past year, the board has approved nearly 50 percent of commutation requests brought before it, nearly double the previous year’s rate. 

Changes in sentencing laws have resulted in a significant increase in the amount of commutation requests brought to the board and Stitt has said he wants a thorough process that considers more approvals. 

But approval of commutation requests is no indication of how execution clemency requests will be considered, board member Adam Luck said. 

I hope these training sessions “show the public that the board takes its responsibility seriously and plans to act in a transparent manner,” Luck said.  

McCall said transparency would be critical for the board and that clemency deliberations should be conducted in public. 

“I don’t think the smoke filled room thing is appropriate for death penalty cases,” McCall said. “When we say deliberations that is not to be confused with a jury deliberation (in private).” 

Further reading

The return of the death penalty in Oklahoma

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. Click here to become a Friend of The Frontier.

Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
Donate