Oklahoma Lawmaker Who Supports Death Penalty Laments Its Possible End in His State

Oklahoma State Rep. Jim Olsen, who supports the death penalty, laments its possible end in his state after Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Julius Jones to a life sentence just hours before he was supposed to die.

Olsen hoped for executions to continue in Oklahoma but is now resigned to the idea they may be abolished. He said he was disappointed in Stitt's decision regarding Jones, The Associated Press reported.

"I think it gives us a more permissive climate to commit murder," Olsen said. "It's obviously a very difficult position to be in. I don't think anyone would say, 'I wish I was the governor and had to decide this.'"

"This is probably the end of the death penalty in the state of Oklahoma," he added.

Oklahoma has had a series of bungled legal injections, such as John Marion Grant's execution on Oct. 28. Grant was given Midazolam, which caused him to convulse and vomit. This was only the first of three drugs he was supposed to receive. The other unsuccessful executions were rescheduled but in light of recent events, it seems unclear if they will occur.

There is a federal lawsuit against the state's lethal injection protocols scheduled for a February trial. The three-drug injections can cause unconstitutional pain and suffering, the lawsuit argues.

Don Heath, chairman of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Stitt should postpone executions until after the trial.

Although Olsen believes executions are coming to an end, Heath doesn't agree with the sentiment.

"I hope that's the case," Heath said. "I haven't seen any indication from Gov. Stitt that this is the case."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Jim Olsen, Death Penalty, Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma state Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, listens during a committee meeting Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Oklahoma City. Olsen is worried the death penalty may not continue in Oklahoma. Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo, File

The governor's decision to commute Jones' sentence followed widespread outcry over doubts raised by his defense. Celebrity supporters including Kim Kardashian West had advocated on Jones' behalf, and Oklahoma high school students walked out of their classrooms this week in protest of his planned execution.

Stitt's offer of clemency — commuting Jones' sentence from death to life in prison without the possibility of parole — came just weeks after criticism and questions about the state's three-drug execution protocol were renewed following the Oct. 28 execution of Grant.

And earlier this week, members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Wednesday voted 3-2 to recommend clemency for death row inmate Bigler Stouffer II — not because of doubt over his guilt, but over concerns about the state's execution methods.

Stitt has not said publicly why he agreed to commute Jones' death sentence, and he has not commented on the parole board's recommendation to commute Stouffer's sentence.

"He supports the death penalty, but he considers (commutations) on a case-by-case basis," said Stitt spokesperson Carly Atchison. "The conditions of (Jones') commutation, that he will never be eligible for pardon or parole," was key to Stitt's decision, Atchison said.

An attorney for Jones did not immediately return a phone call for comment on plans for future legal action.

Heath said Jones' options appear to be limited.

"I think he has exhausted his appeals. Only if new evidence comes forward can he appeal," Heath said. "I don't think you can appeal a mercy decision, a clemency decision."

Don Heath, Kevin Stitt, Death Penalty
While State Rep. Jim Olsen believes that the death penalty is coming to an end in Oklahoma, Don Heath, chairman of Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty doesn't hold the same sentiment. Heath believes that Gov. Kevin Stitt's actions don't reflect such an outcome, despite the commutation of Julius Jones' sentence. In this photo, Stitt speaks during a roundtable at the State Dining Room of the White House June 18, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images