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KEATING calls for higher legal standard for use of capital punishment

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Frank Keating, a staunch death penalty supporter, believes Oklahoma's present legal standard for capital punishment is ``too low.''

During a speech Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, Keating proposed a higher standard for capital murder convictions, saying ``moral certainty'' would be more defensible than the present ``beyond a reasonable doubt.''

He defined the standard proof beyond a reasonable doubt as ``proof of such a convincing character as to be relied upon unhesitatingly in the most important of our affairs.'' That standard is appropriate in most felony cases, but not death penalty crimes, Keating said.

In offering an example, Keating said if a jury came back with a guilty verdict and decided a defendant's punishment should be a prison term, ``proof beyond a reasonable doubt'' could still be used.

``If on the other hand, you intend to sentence to death, that standard must be the higher standard of moral certainty,'' he said, adding that all 12 jurors must agree.

Keating said his office will prepare legislation supporting his proposal, but said state lawmakers and prosecutors may oppose it.

Forty people have been put to death during Keating's gubernatorial tenure, so his criticism of the state's death penalty standard was unexpected.

Gerald Adams, a spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson, said the Attorney General's Office would want to study the proposal's possible legal ramifications before commenting.

Jack Dempsey Pointer, president of Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said ``moral certainty,'' like ``reasonable doubt,'' are vague terms.

``Jurors have enough trouble defining reasonable doubt,'' Pointer said. ``To bring this into it would confuse it even further.''

Jurors make a decision based on facts and not their own morality, he said.

``Bringing one's value into the decision process would muddy the water,'' Pointer said.

Keating warned that without a tougher standard, the death penalty may not be able to survive.

``The only way we who believe in it can assure that it will survive is that no innocent person be mistakenly put to death,'' he said. ``For us to raise that bar . 5/8. 5/8. is not only appropriate, I think it is essential.''

Earlier this year, Keating acted on the state Pardon and Parole Board's first clemency recommendation since 1966 for a death-row inmate and commuted convicted Muskogee County killer Phillip Dewitt Smith's sentence to life without parole.

Keating is currently weighing the fate of Gerardo Valdez, a Mexican national who was not informed of his right to contact his consulate for legal assistance.

The Pardon and Parole Board has recommended that Valdez's death sentence for a 1989 Grady County murder be commuted to life without parole. This week, Keating issued a 30-day stay of Valdez's execution.
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