My Fellow Conservatives Are Turning Against the Death Penalty. It's About Time | Opinion

Oklahoma is back to killing prisoners. Two weeks ago, the state executed James Coddington, the first of 25 death row inmates Oklahoma plans to put to death through 2024, despite a dark and chilling history when it comes to the death penalty.

In 2014, Clayton Lockett wasn't fully sedated before his lethal ejection, which led to him to regaining consciousness during the procedure and experiencing sharp pain before his death. In 2015, Charles Warner cried out, "My body is on fire!" as he was executed by lethal injection. Officials later revealed one of the drugs used in the execution was not authorized by the state's protocol.

Following these botched executions, state officials instituted a moratorium on the death penalty. An independent bipartisan commission established to review Oklahoma's death penalty identified 46 areas of serious concern for which the commission made recommendations. The head of the state's Department of Corrections bemoaned "the lack of total transparency" leading to the botched executions of Lockett and Warner and concluded that lethal injection was no longer viable.

But Oklahoma officials later reversed that decision, and in the first execution since the pause was lifted last year, John Grant convulsed and vomited after he was administered the first drug, bringing attention to yet another botched execution in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has 24 more executions scheduled in the next 29 months, even though both the Republican and Democrat co-chairs of the 2017 commission have called for another halt because the state effectively ignored their report and recommendations.

It's a silver lining in this horrible story: Concern about the death penalty is growing among conservatives in the Sooner state—and across the nation.

This disturbing history of ineffective, unaccountable government is just one reason. The astronomical costs associated with the death penalty compared to life imprisonment betray the conservative principle of fiscal responsibility. And the decades-long appeals process repeatedly recycles the anguish and grief experienced by victims' families. Time and time again, I've heard the stories of murder victim's family members who have been failed by this system.

end the death penalty
Anti-death penalty activists hold a candlelight vigil on the evening preceeding the killing of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, June 9, 2001 next to Chapman University School of Law in Orange, CA. David McNew/Getty Images

Moreover, as someone who is proudly a pro-life conservative, I find it impossible and inconsistent to be pro-life and simultaneously pro-death. I realize the temptation to categorize those on death row as heinous killers and to view their lives as not worthy of living. But we should view all life as sacred. Being pro-life isn't about agreeing with how someone's life is lived, but the simple agreement that one should have the right to live it.

And of course, there is always the risk of executing an innocent person. When a life is on the line, one mistake is one too many.

In Oklahoma, that risk is all too real. In September 2021, death row prisoner Robert Miller reached a $2 million settlement with Oklahoma City for his wrongful conviction and death sentence for the rape and murder of two women in Oklahoma County in 1988. He is one of five death row exonerations in the county, the fourth most in the United States since the death penalty was reestablished in the 1970s.

Oklahoma Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty recently launched with a call for a moratorium. Brett Farley, the state chapter coordinator, warned that capital punishment does not align with conservatism. "A growing number of conservatives in Oklahoma have concluded that the death penalty violates our core conservative principles of valuing life, fiscal responsibility, and limited government," he said.

But Oklahoma is not the only deep-red state where conservatives are calling for an end to the death penalty. In Ohio, a political bellwether state that is currently governed by Republicans in both House and Senate chambers and in the governor's mansion, Republicans have co-sponsored a bill to repeal the death penalty repeal that came close to passing this year. "Like so many Ohioans, I once supported capital punishment and over time, with prayer and reflection have come to believe it's the wrong policy for the state of Ohio," Republican State Senator Steve Huffman said.

There is a shift taking place in American conservatism. Can the Right become the modern day leaders of the repeal movement?

It's now a matter of when, not if, red states will repeal the death penalty and help transform the justice system.

Demetrius Minor is National Manager for Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty, a content creator for The Family Vision Media and a Project 21 Member.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.