- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, May 4, 2014

Oklahoma has no margin of error with its next execution

Oklahoma has left itself no margin for error the next time it executes a death row inmate, not after the problems with Clayton Derrell Lockett’s execution last week.

Lockett, who killed a 19-year-old woman in 1999 by shooting her twice with a shotgun and then having her buried alive, didn’t die peacefully on the gurney at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, as so many before him have. Instead, he took longer than usual to fall unconscious. Then he writhed and grimaced and twitched. Eventually prison officials closed the curtain to witnesses. They later said a “blown vein” kept the lethal drugs from working as planned; Lockett died of an apparent heart attack more than 40 minutes after the execution began.

Charles Warner was to be executed just two hours after Lockett, for raping and killing his girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter in 1997. But Gov. Mary Fallin delayed it for two weeks and ordered a top-down review of Lockett’s execution and the state’s protocol. Warner’s execution could very well be pushed back further, depending on the length of the review.

Other states have had problematic executions. In 2009, an Ohio death row inmate was given a reprieve after executioners failed to find a suitable vein despite trying for hours. These incidents have prompted criticism from opponents of the death penalty, as Lockett’s did. This hand-wringing is often short lived.

Might the Oklahoma case change that? Much of the outrage last week involved Oklahoma keeping secret the source of its execution drugs, as is allowed by state law. The term “human experimentation” was used by some critics to describe the procedure.

Shortages of drugs once used in executions forced the state to look elsewhere for other drugs. Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam for the first time Tuesday. Florida uses the same drug, although in a much larger dose. Might that have been an issue in this case? Were the drugs sound, as state Attorney General Scott Pruitt has promised repeatedly?

Was an intravenous needle applied improperly by medical technicians in the execution chamber, as some medical experts have suggested? The head of the Department of Corrections revealed that the IV was inserted in Lockett’s groin because numerous efforts to place it in his arms, legs or feet failed.

These are just some of the questions facing the state’s public safety commissioner, Michael Thompson, who is leading the investigation into Lockett’s execution. Pruitt has assigned investigators from his office to assist. Lockett’s attorney wants an independent review, instead of one led by a state agency, but at this point there’s no reason to believe Thompson will do anything other than thorough, professional and unbiased work. He must, given the stakes.

The prospects of a double execution, following extensive legal maneuverings by defense attorneys and the state, created considerable interest for the Lockett and Warner cases. A dozen media members - the maximum allowed - were in the witness room for Lockett; others were on hand in the prison’s media center.

Last week’s mess and the reaction to it ensure an even larger media presence for Oklahoma’s next execution. If and when that execution occurs, the state must get it absolutely right or brace itself for further criticism and pressure to find some other way to punish its most despicable criminals.


Tulsa World, May 5, 2014

Tulsa deserves, needs passenger rail service

The fate of a passenger rail line between Tulsa and Oklahoma City will be decided soon by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

After months of wondering, ODOT is expected to reveal the winning bid on the railway line, the Sooner Sub, that runs from Sapulpa to Del City.

It is used as a freight-only now and depending on which company gets the bid, it could remain freight-only or become a combination freight-passenger line.

Iowa Pacific Holdings has proposed to start passenger service, planning six daily passenger trips, if it is awarded the bid.

Eastern Oklahoma has been patiently waiting 15 years for the state to make good on its promise. In 1998, the state purchased the Sooner Sub. That same year, the Legislature approved state taxpayer funding for the Heartland Flyer, which runs from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth. The measure was passed with a promise of a Tulsa-Oklahoma City line, in the second phase.

Having passenger rail service connecting the state’s two largest cities makes sense. And, it would be a job-creator, not for Tulsa and Oklahoma City only, but many small towns in stops along the way.

Getting the bid, however, would only be the beginning. Tracks need to be altered to accommodate faster train speeds; a link from Sapulpa to Tulsa would have to be obtained; prices set, and depots built.

Almost two-thirds of the state’s population lies in eastern Oklahoma. The northeast portion of the state alone gives a passenger train a good customer base.

But this is not only about northeast Oklahoma or Tulsa. It’s about the state. It’s about jobs and moving toward transportation other than cars and trucks.

And there is this: The good people in this part of the state have funded Oklahoma City’s Heartland Flyer for 15 years. It’s time for some payback.

We urge ODOT to do the right thing: Allow this part of the state the passenger rail service it deserves and needs.


The Journal Record, May 5, 2014

Fallin should sign violence bill

Credit state Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, for her leadership in the fight against domestic violence.

Floyd conducted an interim study last year that she said put the urgency of domestic violence on her agenda. The meetings led to four bills this session. Sadly, only one has been signed by the governor, although a second is likely headed to her desk this week.

Two are dead. House Bill 2530, which would have enhanced training on domestic violence for public defenders and prosecutors, passed in the House 72-21, but died in the Senate. House Bill 2528, which would have appropriated $360,000 from the General Revenue Fund to mental health and substance abuse services for trauma-specific adult services, never made it to the House floor.

As Floyd discovered during the interim study, domestic violence victims endure trauma that often leads to mental health problems, substance abuse, and run-ins with law enforcement. Early professional treatment can prevent many of those troubles, saving the victim a lot of agony and the state a lot of money. Both bills should have passed.

Two others did. House Bill 2526, which Fallin signed into law April 29, requires police officers investigating domestic abuse to ask the victim a series of questions known as a lethality assessment. The assessment has been used in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties and the new law requires it statewide. Twenty-five years of research at Johns Hopkins University showed that a screening process would have recognized the danger facing 87 percent of those killed through domestic violence, and 92 percent of those nearly killed.

The fourth bill, HB 2527, would add a check-off box to all Oklahoma income tax returns, giving individual and corporate filers an option to donate from their refund to a revolving fund that would pay for attorney general-approved legal services for indigent victims of domestic violence. The fund would be administered by the attorney general’s office.

Here’s why Floyd’s bills are necessary: Oklahoma ranks third among the 50 states in cases where abuse results in a woman’s death.

Astonishingly, 16 House of Representative members voted against HB 2527. Floyd told The Journal Record that no questions were asked when the bill was presented on the House floor, and no one asked her about the bill. Floyd doesn’t know why anyone voted against it.

Neither do we; Gov. Mary Fallin should sign it without delay.

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