An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  - Gandhi

Anti death penalty group features Rob Warden, Center on Wrongful Convictions, at dinner

Center on Wrongful Convictions executive director Rob Warden (left) with exoneree Wilder “Ken” Berry. Photo credit: Randy Belice/Northwestern Law, © 2014
Center on Wrongful Convictions executive director Rob Warden (left) with exoneree Wilder “Ken” Berry. Photo credit: Randy Belice/Northwestern Law, © 2014

The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) is a grassroots membership organization working to end the death penalty in Oklahoma. The group engages in outreach, education and advocacy aimed at raising awareness of death penalty related issues.

Oklahoma ranks third nationally in the number of state executions.

On Saturday, April 12, OK-CADP is hosting two events at the Nigh University Center on the University of Central Oklahoma campus in Edmond.

A free debate on “Why & How to Dismantle the Death Penalty” by the UCO Debate Team will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Constitution Hall on the 2nd floor.

UCO debate sponsors include the College of Liberal Arts, the UCO American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Department of Political Science & Sociology, and faculty member Professor Joe Tripodi.

Following the debate at 6 p.m., the OK-CADP 23rd Annual Membership Meeting & Awards Dinner will be held in the 3rd floor Ballrooms A&B.

Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago will be keynote speaker.

An award-winning writer, Warden is the author of numerous articles, commentaries and books on criminal justice issues including True Stories of False Confessions (forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in 2009).

After more than three decades at the Chicago Daily News, Warden joined with Northwestern University Law Professor Lawrence C. Marshall to start the Center on Wrongful Convictions in 1999.

“I’m really offended by the notion that I live in a country that will railroad people onto death row, certainly execute innocent people,” Warden said in an interview for Surviving Justice, a series of personal narratives from within the criminal justice system.

The Center has been instrumental in more than 30 exonerations and in Governor George Ryan’s decision to grant clemency to all Illinois death row prisoners in 2003.

Adam Leathers, OK-CADP co chair said, “We are honored to have Mr. Warden as our keynote this year. His work with the Center on Wrongful Convictions is critical to our mission and to America’s Justice system.”

OK-CADP works for alternatives to the death penalty that will reinvest resources spent on trying to execute a few people into effective crime prevention, solving cold cases and providing support for survivors of homicide victims.

“The death penalty is an archaic and barbaric means of seeking vengeance and has nothing to do with justice or crime prevention,” said Leathers. “We believe it is far more expensive than alternatives, despite popular belief, and it is overtly racist and works against the poor.”

After years on death row, 144 people have been exonerated In the United States – 10 from Oklahoma.

“The reality is, we as a state do not sexually assault people convicted of rape, we do not steal the vehicles of those convicted of grand theft auto, nor do we burn down the homes of convicted arsonists,” Leathers said. “If we murder murderers, what separates us from them?”

This month Oklahoma has scheduled the execution of two death row inmates, Clayton Darrell Locket, 38 on April 22 and Charles Frederick Warner, 46 on April 29. This follows two previous 2014 executions of Michael Lee Wilson and Kenneth Eugene Hogan.

“We at the OK-CADP are not unaware of a murder victim’s family nor do we dismiss their pain,” Leathers stated. “Instead we see that pain and heartbreak and oppose inflicting that on another family.”

During every execution, the coalition holds a demonstration outside the Governor’s mansion. The public is invited to join them in protest at 5:15 p.m. until the appointed hour of execution at 6 p.m., when the event becomes a silent vigil.

Lockett and Warner have sued the state challenging the state’s secrecy policy regarding the controversial issue involving what drugs are used in Oklahoma executions. Officials say they have no plans to review the state’s execution protocol.

Leathers stated, “We expend precious time and resources to humanely accomplish what is inherently inhumane, when the true solution is far cheaper, and morally sound: abolish the death penalty.”

In 2012 the Oklahoma Conference of Churches produced a statement calling on the abolition of the death penalty in Oklahoma.

Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, OCC Executive Director said, “The OCC Theological Statement on the Death Penalty has been signed by every one of the bishops or other Heads of Communion of OCC member denominations.”

The coalition’s recently established Bob Lemon Capital Defense Attorney Scholarships  program provides financial aid for capital defense attorneys to attend national training events that will enhance their professional development in mitigation, habeas appeals, trials, and victim outreach.

So far, as a result, eight Oklahoma attorneys are benefitting from these important programs.

Former co-chair Lydia Polley said, “Our gratitude is beyond words to Bob Lemon and another anonymous donor for funding this endeavor.”

Annual Dinner tickets are $50 for adults, $15 for students. Deadline for reservations has been extended to Monday, April 7. Call 405-948-1645 or register online.

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