On October 5, 2023, the Oklahoma House Judiciary Criminal Committee met to discuss ongoing concerns regarding the state’s capital punishment system and the possibility of recommending a moratorium on executions. Republican Representative Kevin McDugle (pictured) called for the meeting and is a longtime supporter of the death penalty. He spoke of his increasing concern regarding the possibility of executing an innocent person, particularly citing the case of Richard Glossip, who has long maintained his innocence. At the meeting, Rep. McDugle told his colleagues that “there are cases right now… [of] people on death row who don’t deserve the death penalty… The process in Oklahoma is not right. Either we fix it, or we put a moratorium in place until we can fix it.” Rep. McDugle noted that the moratorium idea has support from many of his Republican colleagues.

Oklahoma is responsible for 122 executions since 1976, second only to Texas’ nearly 600 executions in the same period. In July 2022, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set execution dates for 25 prisoners after a nearly six-year moratorium put in place by the same court in 2015 following the Attorney General’s Office discovery that the wrong drugs were used in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014. In 2017, an independent bipartisan review committee was established to review Oklahoma’s capital punishment process. The review committee recommended a moratorium stay in place until more than 40 recommendations were enacted. Since the committee’s report was released, Oklahoma has implemented almost none of the proposed recommendations.

Judge Andy Lester, a former federal magistrate judge, general counsel for state lawmakers, and the co-chair of the 2017 independent review commission told the House Judiciary Criminal Committee that “from start to finish, the Oklahoma capital punishment system is fundamentally broken.” Judge Lester said the system “is so broken that we cannot know whether someone who has been condemned is actually deserving of the ultimate penalty the state can impose.” Adam Luck, the former chair of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board also spoke at the committee meeting, similarly focusing on the prospect of executing an innocent person. Mr. Luck discussed how his personal views on capital punishment changed over time. “Simply put, I realized I could not support the death penalty in any case, because I could not support the undeniable, unchangeable risk of executing an innocent person,” testified Mr. Luck.

Oklahoma is responsible for 11 death row exonerations in the United States since 1973. 


Sean Murphy, Republican-led Oklahoma com­mit­tee con­sid­ers pause on exe­cu­tions amid death case scruti­ny, Associated Press, October 5, 2023; Austin Sarat, A State With One of the Highest Execution Rates Considers a Moratorium, Slate, October 122023.

Image Credit: Kmcdugle, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://​cre​ativecom​mons​.org/​l​i​c​e​n​s​e​s​/​b​y​-​s​a/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons