Andy Lester

“Commission members unanimously recommend that the current moratorium on the death penalty be extended,” said a nearly 300-page report published by the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission in 2017. More than six years later, almost none of the 45 recommendations have been implemented. Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Andy Lester, one of three co-chairs of the Commission, reiterated the call for a moratorium in a November 27, 2023 letter to the editors of 

“Whether you support capital punishment or oppose it, one thing is clear. Oklahoma’s system is so fundamentally flawed that we cannot know that someone who has been condemned to death actually deserves the ultimate penalty. Unjust convictions are bad. But an unjust execution would be intolerable. We can and must do better,” wrote Mr. Lester. “The reforms the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended are a blueprint for a better, just system. Until significant reforms are implemented, Oklahoma should put a moratorium on all executions.” 

Mr. Lester highlights a few of the Committee’s recommendations relating to innocence protection, forensics, prosecutors, and defense that have remained unaddressed to illustrate the lack of progress in Oklahoma. “As these four areas exemplify, virtually none of the commission’s more than 40 proposed reforms have been implemented. Yet, despite the numerous, serious flaws in Oklahoma’s implementation of the death penalty, the moratorium was lifted and our state has barreled ahead with an unprecedented number of executions,” explains Mr. Lester. In the last three years, Oklahoma has carried out 10 executions. 

On October 5, 2023, Republican Representative Kevin McDugle, longtime proponent of the death penalty, called for a meeting in the Oklahoma House Judiciary Criminal Committee to discuss the status quo of capital punishment in the state and the possibility of implementing a moratorium. “The process in Oklahoma is not right. Either we fix it, or we put a moratorium in place until we can fix it,” said Rep. McDugle. Since 1973, Oklahoma has had 11 death row exonerations. 


Andy Lester, Letter: Reinstate exe­cu­tion mora­to­ri­um until 2017 rec­om­men­da­tions are imple­ment­ed, non​doc​.com, November 27, 2023; Matt Patterson, With Oklahoma exe­cu­tions ramp­ing up, some push death penal­ty mora­to­ri­um, non​doc​.com, November 14, 2023; Sean Murphy, Republican-led Oklahoma com­mit­tee con­sid­ers pause on exe­cu­tions amid death case scruti­ny, Associated Press, October 52023 

Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission 2017 Report, here.