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Attorney General wants death sentences reinstated

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson wants death sentences reinstated for three convicted murderers who were granted relief by the state Court of Criminal Appeals on mental retardation claims.

Edmondson said the cases are ``particularly heinous'' and has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the lower court's ruling and ``put these killers back on death row where they belong.''

The sentences of the men were changed to life without parole in December. The state's highest court for criminal matters went against district court jury decisions that the men were not mentally retarded.

Robert Wayne Lambert was sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of Laura Lee Sanders and Michael Houghton, both of Tulsa. The pair were kidnapped and burned alive in the trunk of a car. Lambert's co-defendant, Scott Allen Hain, was executed in April 2003.

Darrin Lynn Pickens was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of Tommy Lee Hayes, a clerk at a convenience store near Sapulpa.

The third convicted murderer, Maximo Lee Salazar, was sentenced to death for the 1987 stabbing death of 9-year-old Jennifer Prill of Cache.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing mentally retarded inmates was unconstitutional, and, Edmondson said, mental retardation became the ``defense de jour.''

The U.S. Supreme Court left it to each individual state to develop the proper method to enforce the constitutional restriction. The state Court of Criminal Appeals used the case of a McIntosh County killer, Patrick D. Murphy, to establish a three-pronged test to determine mental retardation based on intellectual function, age the condition was identified and IQ.

``Oklahoma has not legislated on this process,'' Edmondson said. ``Instead, the (appeals court) is establishing its preferred procedure by reversing death penalties.''

Edmondson said a bill his office requested to statutorily establish procedures for determining mental retardation in death penalty cases is pending in the Legislature. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Daniel Sullivan, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond.

The attorney general said the criminal appeals court stepped in to overturn the death sentences without the state having time to respond to the inmates' appeals.
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