'Think Twice' Group Opposes Codifying Death Penalty Into OK Constitution

Wednesday, September 14th 2016, 10:30 pm
By: News On 6

As Election Day nears, one group wants voters to think twice about something on November's ballot.

A group called Think Twice Oklahoma rallied against State Question 776 in Tulsa on Wednesday. The amendment seeks to add the death penalty to Oklahoma's state constitution, giving lawmakers the power to try out any legal method of execution that isn't banned by the U.S. Constitution.

Opponents say that means Oklahoma could someday utilize the firing squad method, as is used in Utah.

"Really, there's no telling what kinds of possible methods could be attempted," said Marc Hyden of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a national advocacy group. "I know there's been talks of nitrogen gas here."

Kwame Ajamu was 17, living in Cleveland, Ohio, when he was charged with aggravated murder — a crime he didn't commit. He could have lost his life for it.

"I spent three years on death row," Ajamu said.

A judge reversed Ajamu's conviction decades later, and now he travels the country, speaking out against the death penalty.

When he heard about Oklahoma's State Question 776, "It kind of ticked me off," Ajamu said.

Ajamu is a staunch death penalty opponent, but some members of Think Twice Oklahoma aren't against capital punishment itself. What they oppose is the enshrinement of execution in Oklahoma's constitution.

State Representative Mike Ritze, a Republican representing parts of Tulsa and Wagoner Counties, co-sponsored the amendment. He told News On 6 over the phone the amendment just cements what Oklahomans want.

"I know since we've been a state that Oklahomans are in favor of the death penalty, and they want us to continue to pursue that," Ritze said.

Ritze is referring to a 2014 poll that showed nearly three-fourths of Oklahomans support the death penalty.

But a more recent News On 6 poll conducted last Fall shows most Oklahomans actually favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison sentences.

11/18/2015 Related Story: WEB EXCLUSIVE POLL: More Oklahomans Oppose Death Penalty If Given Alternative

The poll shows 52 percent of Oklahomans would prefer the life sentence, compared to only 34 percent that would rather have executions.

Ajamu believes, if passed, State Question 776 will hold Oklahoma back behind the rest of the nation.

"The other, rest of the world, the United States of America starts to eradicate the death penalty, [but] Oklahoma can step back and say - we have that in our Constitution," he said.

This is the verbatim language of the proposed amendment:

"All statutes of this state requiring, authorizing, imposing or relating to the death penalty are in full force and effect, subject to legislative amendment or repeal by statute, initiative or referendum. Any method of execution shall be allowed, unless prohibited by the United States Constitution. Methods of execution may be designated by the Legislature. A sentence of death shall not be reduced on the basis that a method of execution is invalid. In any case in which an execution method is declared invalid, the death sentence shall remain in force until the sentence can be lawfully executed by any valid method. The death penalty provided for under such statutes shall not be deemed to be, or to constitute, the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments, nor shall such punishment be deemed to contravene any other provision of this Constitution."