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

SQ 776 passes overwhelmingly, supporters say death penalty reforms ahead for Oklahoma

by Kyle Schwab, The Oklahoman, Published Nov. 11, 2016

With voters having overwhelmingly approved State Question 776, supporters say the measure will ultimately allow the Legislature to move forward with reforms on how capital punishment is implemented in Oklahoma.

The passage of SQ 776 means the Oklahoma Constitution will now state the death penalty isn’t cruel and unusual punishment. Out of all 1,956 precincts, 66.37 percent of voters supported the measure, 941,336 to 477,057.

Supporters of adding the new section to the state constitution wanted to protect the death penalty and ensure capital punishment still would be available even if the current method of lethal injection is found to be unconstitutional.

The question stated the Legislature is expressly empowered to designate any method of execution not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. It also said death sentences shall not be reduced because a method of execution is ruled to be invalid.

“If the pharmaceutical companies continue to block the production of the drugs that are for lethal injection, then the next method automatically rolls over and defaults into what we have available, such as nitrogen gas,” the electric chair, firing squad and hanging, said state Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, a co-author.

Ritze also said Wednesday that he believes the measure will end the “logjam” of people sitting on death row for many years.

Another co-author, state Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, said, “Now we no longer have to deal with the question of whether or not we have capital punishment.

“As a member of the Legislature, I think it’s now important for us to look into the reform measures dealing with the death penalty … to make sure that we are executing individuals in the most humane way possible,” Jordan said Wednesday.

Jordan also said the measure will ensure “that when there is a brutal crime committed, the heart-cry of the public is actually met.”

According to the Oklahoma Secretary of State website, the measure “shall take effect and be in force when it shall have been approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon and not otherwise.”

What opponents said

Opponents said the question is unnecessary, invites costly legal challenges and will violate government checks and balances.

Former state Sen. Connie Johnson, chairwoman of the Say No to SQ 776 campaign, said Oklahoma taxpayers are the biggest losers because they will foot the bill “when it is challenged in court and then thrown out.”

“This referendum does nothing to remedy the deep and persistent problems with the death penalty in our state and may cause even more dysfunction,” Johnson said Tuesday night.

Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, also spoke out against SQ 776 Tuesday.

“A majority of Oklahoma voters chose to enshrine the death penalty in our state constitution. This decision comes on the heels of our state’s numerous and increasingly brutal failures to apply the death penalty,” Kiesel said. “This state question is nothing more than an attempt by our government to shirk responsibility for their repeated incompetent attempts to rehabilitate an inherently broken system of state sponsored killings.”

All executions in Oklahoma have been on hold since late last year following recent mishaps related to the lethal injection process.

Read original article here.


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