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After the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board refused to recommend clemency, Governor Kevin Stitt may feel secure in saying he has no other option but to allow the execution of Donald Grant to proceed. But that isn’t true.
To be sure, Oklahoma remains one of eight states that must receive a recommendation from the Board in order to commute a death sentence. Yet, taking a brief glance at actions taken by Stitt’s predecessor shows that the governor can act on his own.
Following the botched executions of two death row detainees, former Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin halted the execution of Richard Glossip. Moments before his planned execution, Fallin issued an executive order to halt the execution after it was discovered the state was preparing to use the wrong drug.
Glossip had been convicted of murder with no recommendation for a commuted sentence from the Parole Board. Yet, the governor was still able to use her executive powers to act unilaterally. She even went a step further. Fallin eventually placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014 due to questions surrounding previous botched executions.
What purpose does the death penalty serve?
This week, Donald Grant’s execution would mark the third state-sanctioned murder in nearly seven years after current, appointed Attorney General John O’Connor broke the moratorium in 2021.
Donald Grant has spent fifteen years on death row for the vicious killings of two Del City hotel workers during a 2001 robbery. Those murders can never be reversed, and the pain those families continue to feel cannot be understated. Yet, to kill a man with severe mental illnesses represents a clear violation of the “cruel and unusual” clause of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
Killing a man when you could just as easily demand he spend the rest of his life in prison doesn’t serve justice. Polled police chiefs have long-stated that it doesn’t deter crime. So then, what does it serve other than brutal retribution?
New Testament Christian values don’t align with capital punishment
In his decision to stop the execution of Julius Jones, Gov. Stitt cited his Christian faith and prayers to God as informing his decision.
I grew up in the Christian faith since attending church in my mother’s womb. I memorized the books of the bible when I was eight years old and became baptized that same year. Throughout my high school years I served as the song leader for my hometown congregation. I’d like to believe I know a little bit about Christianity. Yet, I fail to see the connection between those values and support for the death penalty.
The overwhelming theme throughout Christ’s teachings in the New Testament point to forgiveness, not revenge. Christ, even as he was being lynched, asked God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
I wonder what Gov. Stitt honestly believes Jesus Christ would have to say about the state’s use of the death penalty. Christ clearly denounced the Old Testament’s “an eye for an eye” philosophy. Still, many conservative Christian followers today seem to ignore that fact.
Leaders sometimes must go against the majority
On the other hand, Stitt has also cited the will of the people as reason for carrying out state-sanctioned murder. Ironically, despite being a state with one of the largest percentages of Christians, a strong majority of Oklahomans support capital punishment.
Support is so strong in fact, that voters enshrined the vulgar practice into the state’s constitution. Stitt may believe that voters elected him to lead with the majority of voters in mind.
Yet, being a leader isn’t always about following the will of the majority. Sometimes, it requires going against the grain.
An example of this form of leadership can be found in a former Oklahoma governor from the 1920s.
Despite being a member of the Ku Klux Klan himself, starting in 1923, Governor Jack Walton waged an all-out war against the terrorist group, according to the Oklahoma History Society.
Governor Jack Walton
Notably, Oklahoma contained one of the largest concentrations of Klan membership in the nation. The Tulsa Race Massacre didn’t occur out of nowhere. Before and after the massive attack, Black communities across the state had been under assault through lynchings and other forms of violent intimidation.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of the state legislature refused to act, with many of them Klan members. Still, despite a large percentage of voting constituents belonging to the Klan, Governor Walton went against the grain.
Using his executive powers, he declared martial law in Okmulgee, Tulsa and other communities in an attempt to root out the racist band of renegades.
Governor has the power to make his own decision
Former Gov. Walton was rewarded with impeachment and disdain for his unilateral actions. Yet, history remembers him as being influential in turning the tide on Klan membership in the state. Following his time as governor, Klan membership declined and vigilante lynchings eventually ceased.
Today, even though a strong majority of the legislature refuses to weigh in, and even though a large majority of Oklahoma voters support the death penalty, Governor Kevin Stitt has the ability to turn the tide on the archaic, ungodly practice of capital punishment.
When it comes to stopping executions in the state, he can chart a new course forward using evidence-based practices to distribute justice and deter crime. Ultimately, Governor Stitt has all the power. He just needs to use it.