Members of victim's family to watch execution

Tuesday, November 30th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Patricia Smith thought little of it when she met the man who mowed her grandmother's lawn. Cornel Cooks was just another neighbor, she thought. But then, one afternoon the phone rang. Her 87-year-old grandmother, Jennie Ridling, had been gagged, beaten and raped during a burglary at her Lawton home. It took almost two hours before the disabled woman eventually suffocated from the gauze wrapped around her face.

Cooks is scheduled to be executed by drug injection early Thursday morning for the crime. Mrs. Smith will be there to watch. "He has to take the consequence for his actions," she said."I will be there for my grandmother." Cooks, 43, has spent 16 years on death row for Mrs. Ridling's death in 1982. He still had one appeal pending Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court as the state prepared to execute him at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. The state Pardon and Parole Board rejected his request for clemency last month.

Defense attorneys argued that Cooks grew up in a dysfunctional family and was addicted to drugs. "I just don't think being executed is the right answer here," Cooks told the board. "There is so much in prison a person could do if he wanted to ... I know in my heart I'm not a cold-blooded person."

Cooks will be the 101st inmate executed by the state of Oklahoma, and the 18th Oklahoma prisoner executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1977. He has requested a last meal of catfish with hush puppies and tarter sauce, tater tots with ketchup, a steak sandwich, banana pudding with vanilla wafers, strawberry ice cream and a Coke.

Mrs. Smith of Burleson, Texas, will witness the execution with her two daughters, Stephanie Anderson of Fort Worth, Texas, and Margaret Wolfe of Cleburne, Texas, and Ms. Wolfe's husband, Mike. Mrs. Smith was 42 when her grandmother was killed. "She was a very neat, hardworking individual who came through the Depression and worked in laundry and food services," she said. "It has been a long time coming for justice," Mrs. Smith said. "He already had more than enough clemency by having 16 years of added life -- more than my grandmother."