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Oklahoma has executed Benjamin Cole, a 57-year-old man who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2002 murder of his 9-month-old daughter.
On December 20, 2002, Benjamin Cole told investigators that he was trying to get his 9-month-old daughter to stop crying when he grabbed the baby by the ankles and pushed her legs toward her head until she flipped over.
“The sentence of Benjamin Cole has been carried out,” Justin Wolf, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections told reporters.
According to CNN, Cole’s attorney opposed his execution, stating he did not understand the legal proceedings surrounding his execution.
Attorney Tom Hird, said in response, “It is unconscionable that the State denied Ben a competency trial. Ben lacked a rational understanding of why Oklahoma took his life today. As Oklahoma proceeds with its relentless march to execute one mentally ill, traumatized man after another, we should pause to ask whether this is really who we are, and who we want to be.”
Benjamin Cole’s severe mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia and brain damage, were long-standing and extensively documented. His condition deteriorated to the point that he was largely catatonic, could not manage his own basic hygiene, and crawled on the cell floor if without a wheelchair. He barely communicated with prison staff or his own attorneys, going days at a time without speaking to anyone.
In the two decades since the crime, the death row inmate’s declining mental condition – magnified by his exposure as a child to drugs and alcohol, substance abuse issues and physical and sexual abuse – has deteriorated so much that Cole is not competent to be executed, his attorneys argued in a clemency petition.
The issue is key in a number of inmates’ cases, according to their attorneys, as Oklahoma officials plan through 2024 to carry out 25 executions, a spree critics have also condemned amid the state’s record of repeated botched lethal injections.
The facts of Cole’s case obligate the state to spare his life, his attorneys in recent months told parole board members. They pointed to “evolving standards of decency,” including public polling that shows disapproval for executions of the mentally ill.
On Thursday morning, according to Oklahoma’s KFOR, his time of death was 10:22 a.m. Officials say the execution did not have any complications.
Media witnesses say his last words were spoken softly and he offered up a prayer for the state and the nation.
His last words lasted approximately two minutes and seemed to be a stream of consciousness and had a religious theme according to KFOR’s Katelyn Ogle.