The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled this week it would change the manner by which executions are scheduled in the state, opting to set each execution date indivudually instead of in groups.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections had requested the following:

  • Executions should occur at approximately ninety-day intervals.
  • Executions should be set on a Thursday.
  • DOC requires a minimum of thirty-five-day notice that a defendant is scheduled for execution.

The Frontier was told by Phil Bacharach, the Attorney General’s spokesperson, that the motion is somewhat ambiguous because it states the request was denied. In reality, Bacharach said, the agencies received what they asked for. While the court decided against a set 90 day interval between executions, Bacharach said they will accommodate the 90 days when possible. 

When Oklahoma announced in 2022 it planned to execute 25 prisoners by the end of 2024, the state implemented four phases of executions, with each phase including six prisoners.

In January, The Attorney General’s Office and Department of Corrections filed a motion stating the current pace of executions isn’t sustainable. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond told the judges during a hearing in March the current execution schedule is traumatizing to prison staff. However, one judge was unsympathetic to the agency’s need to change the pace.

Judge Gary Lumpkin said at the March hearing that execution staff needed to “suck it up” and do their jobs. In his denial, he maintained that same position, said the state wasn’t in a unique situation, and questioned why the Department of Corrections couldn’t carry out the current pace. 

“What is the difference between 2001-03 and today? Is it the level of leadership or staffing of DOC now versus that of DOC in previous years?” Lumpkin asked in the order. “Individuals in many professions face demanding and arduous duties as part of their job requirements. Personnel in our military continuously face life-and-death situations, but they step up each day and do their duty. Therefore, I cannot join in extending the spacing between executions to ninety (90) days.”

Lumpkin also pointed out the Attorney General’s Office had already been granted a change of execution pace, from 30-days to 60-day intervals, in January 2023.

Judge David Lewis also opposed setting the execution dates 90 days apart, supporting instead a 60-day window between executions. 

Only two of the five judges opposed setting the execution dates 90 days apart, but all five supported ending the phases and setting executions one at a time. Lumpkin wrote in his denial that the state must carry out the executions promptly. 

“It is time to realize the victims and their families must be remembered, and the law established by the Oklahoma Legislature followed,” Lumpkin wrote. 

Drummond, who personally attends each execution and often appears side-by-side with family members of victims, supports the court’s decision, his spokesperson said.

“Attorney General Drummond respects the Court’s ruling and will continue to support the families of victims in every way possible as they await justice for their lost loved ones,” Bacharach said. 

Oklahoma has executed 12 men since 2021. Only one prisoner – Michael DeWayne Smith, who was executed April 4 –  has been executed this year. One other prisoner scheduled for execution this year was found incompetent and one other is awaiting a competency hearing to determine if he’s eligible to be executed under state law. 

Pittsburg County Judge Michael W. Hogan determined on March 28 that James Chandler Ryder was not competent to be executed because he has schizophrenia. Pittsburg County jurors convicted Ryder in 2000 for the murder of a mother and her son in 1999.

A court may also stay another prisoner’s execution due to incompetence. In 2005, Tulsa County jurors convicted Wade Greely Lay of murdering 36-year-old Kenneth Anderson during an armed bank robbery on May 24, 2004. Lay fatally shot Anderson while he was working as a security guard.

Officials scheduled Lay for execution on June 6, but they struck his May competency hearing and have not issued a new date. 

Lay is the only person left scheduled to be executed in 2024.

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