Oklahoma executed Scott Eizember on Thursday, the first of 11 executions planned for 2023 — the most out of any other state in the nation.
Eizember was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death for the murders of A.J. and Patsy Cantrell. Prosecutors said Eizember broke into the Cantrell’s home in order to spy on a house down the street, awaiting the return of his ex-girlfriend, Kathy Biggs.
Eizember said in his final statement that he had a “completely” clear conscience and that he had “told the truth,” an apparent reference to his claim that Patsy Cantrell’s husband killed her accidentally as he attempted to shoot Eizember during a struggle.
“The court also said I told the truth,” Eizember said. “So for those people out there that don’t want to seem to tell the truth, that’s on them, that’s on their head.”
Eizember was pronounced dead at 10:15 a.m.
Eizember described 76-year-old A.J. Cantrell as “stubborn as a mule” according to court documents. Eizember struggled with A.J. Cantrell and eventually bludgeoned him to death. He then covered him with the body of his 70-year-old wife who had been shot dead. Eizember admitted in court that he did not know the Cantrells prior to breaking into their home and killing them.
Eizember then shot Biggs’ teenage son, who survived, and beat Biggs’ mother. What followed was a 37-day manhunt that saw Eizember flee to Arkansas, take a doctor and his family hostage and survive a gunshot wound before eventually being arrested in Texas. A prosecutor called him “evil,” and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, at the time a federal appeals court judge, said in 2015 that Eizember had a mission to “settle a score” with Biggs and her family.
Eizember has admitted his guilt and he told the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board during a clemency hearing in December that he belonged in prison. “I’ve said that right from the start, and I apologize profusely to all the victims,” he said.
The board voted 3-2 to deny Eizember clemency.
Justin Wyatt, a grandson of Patsy and A.J. Cantrell, told reporters Thursday that while it was “not a good day for everyone, it was a good day for victims.”
“Maybe today was a bookend for another day that happened almost 20 years ago,” he said. “I do know that I’m glad our enemy is dead.”
Johnny Melton, nephew to the Cantrells, told reporters that Eizember’s death was “justice,” and urged Oklahoma to take a more serious look at domestic violence.
“It is the abuser who needs the help,” he said. “They need it when they are young. By the time the victim needs help, it’s too late.”
Newly-elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond watched the execution from the witness chamber. He did not speak with the media and left with family members of the Cantrells following their interviews. In a statement, he said “justice is served.”
“I understand that nothing can ever lessen the pain of a loved one’s death, but I pray that today brings closure and some measure of peace to the Cantrell family,” Drummond said.
Eizember was accompanied Thursday by The Rev. Jeff Hood, his spiritual advisor. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections initially barred Hood from attending the execution. The agency said in a statement that it feared Hood, who has been arrested for non-violent protests in other states in the past, would show “a blatant disregard for the experiences of victims’ families and the solemnity of the process.”
Hood filed a complaint in federal court which was settled Wednesday, allowing him to attend the execution in exchange for agreeing not to disrupt the process, court records show. The pastor was able to visit with Eizember Thursday morning and also witnessed his execution.
Hood, bald, with a long brown beard and thick-rimmed black glasses, wore a black cloak and black scarf adorned with a black cross inside the death chamber. He spoke at length with Eizember, who appeared to go unconscious during their discussion. He did not speak with the media following the execution.
After the execution, Steven Harpe, the director of the Department of Corrections, called Hood an “activist preacher” and spoke at length about the guidelines Hood agreed to in order to be in the death chamber during the execution. A man clad in a blue ski mask stood next to Hood during the execution and his eyes never left the spiritual advisor. There appeared to be no issues with Hood during the execution process.
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty issued a statement following the execution acknowledging Eizember’s troubled upbringing.
“Scott Eizember was a victim of domestic violence: his father routinely beat him as a child,” The Rev. Don Heath said. “It began a senseless chain of violence that ended today. We hope that Eizember now knows the peace and wholeness that evaded him during his tragic life.”
Eizember was the first of 11 men Oklahoma has set to execute in 2023 and the eighth man put to death since the state resumed executions in 2021. Oklahoma put five men to death 2022, tying the state with Texas for the most executions in the nation.
Oklahoma’s next scheduled execution is Richard Glossip on Feb. 16. It will be the state’s eighth attempt to put Glossip to death. Glossip was convicted twice for the murder-for-hire of Oklahoma City motel owner Barry Van Treese — his first conviction in 1998 was thrown out due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Authorities have said Glossip paid another man, Justin Sneed, to kill Van Treese.
Sneed testified against Glossip and received a life without parole sentence. Glossip, who says he is innocent, was re-sentenced to death in 2004. In 2017 a documentary, “Killing Richard Glossip,” was released, detailing what it claimed were problems surrounding the case and convictions. The documentary was eventually referenced by former Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, who said in a court filing that it was slanted in favor of Glossip.
Glossip’s clemency hearing is tentatively set for Jan. 26.
Oklahoma executions since 2021
Oct. 28, 2021: John Marion Grant
Dec. 9, 2021: Bigler Jobe Stouffer II
Jan. 27, 2022: Donald Anthony Grant
Feb. 17, 2022: Gilbert Postelle
Aug. 25, 2022: James Allen Coddington
Oct. 20, 2022: Benjamin Cole
Nov. 17, 2022: Richard Fairchild
Jan. 12, 2023: Scott Eizember