It’s a good thing they have a rodeo arena at the “Big Mac” State Penitentiary down in Pittsburg County.
Statewide politicians, anti-death penalty advocates, a dedicated media cadre and some vague mass of corrections officials are all tied in on a 1,200-lb bronc named “Death Penalty.”
Twice convicted of first-degree murder, Richard Glossip’s execution was stayed by Gov. Mary Fallin for the fourth time shortly before it was scheduled Wednesday. The former manager of a motel, Glossip was convicted of convincing 19-year-old Justin Sneed to kill motel owner Barry Van Treese.
Sneed is serving life without parole after providing the primary testimony in Glossip’s convictions. Glossip’s lawyers have whipped up a media frenzy that has many members of the public convinced of Glossip’s innocence, despite knowing little about his actual case or convictions. Gov. Fallin has consistently said Glossip has received his days in court, and neither his re-trial nor his attorneys’ numerous appeals have found a legal basis by which to find him wrongfully convicted.
What’s still unclear is whether any court or powerful politician actually thinks Richard Glossip “didn’t do it.” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has heard and investigated the clammering over Glossip’s supposed innocence, and he called it a “bullshit PR campaign” aimed at abolishing the death penalty.
So let’s set Glossip’s innocence or guilt aside for the moment.
Combined with the botched and torturous execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014, the bumbling public display of Glossip’s scheduled (and rescheduled and rescheduled and rescheduled) execution has done what national anti-death penalty advocates surely love: It has turned one of society’s greatest moral questions into a metaphorical prison rodeo.
While the Oklahoma State Penitentiary hasn’t operated its infamous rodeo since 2010, the state-funded arena still stands immediately next door to the state-funded death chamber in McAlester.
Even from 130 miles away in Oklahoma City, the irony seems cold.
Glossip’s stay of execution Wednesday had nothing to do with his professed innocence, instead stemming from further state incompetence regarding proper lethal injection drugs.
Corrections officials had somehow received potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. While the drugs reportedly do pretty much the same thing, using the acetate would have been a violation of the state’s revamped execution protocols and likely grounds for any number of lawsuits.
The state revamped those protocols after errors with Lockett’s execution in April 2014 caused the convicted murderer to experience an extended and painful heart attack partially in front of witnesses and media. His death took more than 40 minutes and made international headlines.
And it put Oklahoma’s death penalty under massive scrutiny.
“The death penalty you say you believe in is not the one you have in practice,” anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean has said of Oklahoma.
It would be hard to argue she is wrong.
Even Oklahoma death penalty proponents are surely scratching their heads today. The past 17 months of Lockett and Glossip drama have made the death penalty look cruel at best and criminal at worst.
Regardless of whether people believe Glossip’s dubious claims of innocence or whether they morally support the state killing criminals while the Ten Commandments sit in limbo on Capitol grounds, Oklahoma keeps “grabbing the apple” with its executions, and in a professional rodeo with high stakes, that gets you disqualified.
Instead of a somber process wrought from principles and valor, Oklahomans are watching a 15th century town-square horror show in which the executioner sharpens his blades but doesn’t know which knife to use.
So call it a circus, call it a shame or call it amateur hour at the State Pen. This rodeo might be grinding to a halt sooner than later unless the “justice” system can run it with absolute certainty and devoid of heinous results. And unlike the termination of Big Mac’s actual prison rodeo, ending the death penalty wouldn’t bring financial woe upon the Capital of Little Dixie.
What’s the worst that would happen if Big Mac’s dormant rodeo arena were joined in slumber by its controversial death chamber?
People like Glossip would do LWOP?
That’s still one hell of a bronc to ride.