A bill to add a layer of review for Oklahomans on death row is receiving bipartisan support at the state capitol.
The proposal by conservative Republican Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, to create a death row conviction integrity unit by will soon be co-authored by House Minority Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, and Rep. Ajay Pittman, D-Oklahoma City.
“Honestly, it's blood on our hands, it's all of our hands,” McDugle said. “It’s our taxpayer money that's going to fund all of this.”
McDugle is clear that he supports the death penalty’s use in certain heinous crimes. However, he does not believe it has always been used correctly, writing a 2020 opinion column titled, “Either we get the death penalty right, or we don't do it.”
“Some people say, ‘when they get to death row, they've gone through everything in the courts and they're guilty,’ I'm not sure if that's accurate,” McDugle said. “We've got people, I believe, on death row today that are innocent, and they have gone through the process.”
The Representative said he believes death row inmates Julius Jones and Richard Glossip both deserve to have a complete review of their cases.
House Bill 1551 would allow the Governor or the Pardon and Parole Board to request an independent review from a conviction integrity unit consisting of an attorney and investigator not employed by the state attorney general or a district attorney.
The inmate would be required to show a “plausible claim of actual innocence” supported by information or evidence not previously presented “capable of being investigated."
“The (conviction integrity unit) bill simply creates another mechanism to say if we're going to take a life, we want to know for sure,” McDugle said.
“We do have innocent people on death row, we do know that is the case,” Virgin said. “We have to have some sort of mechanism for them to present this evidence.”
Virgin said many of her Democratic colleagues support abolishing the death penalty in Oklahoma, however, “if we are going to have the death penalty as a state, this is something that we support to make sure that the people who actually committed crimes are the ones on death row.”
Following the independent review provided under the bill, the unit would present its findings and recommendations to the Pardon and Parole Board. Copies would also be delivered to the Attorney General, the office of the district attorney who prosecuted the criminal case, the attorney who represented the inmate and the inmate.
“We can continue with the death penalty in Oklahoma and have better, higher confidence. But we’ve still got a couple of cases that are older cases that I question the validity of,” McDugle said.
The bill passed out of committee last month and is eligible to be heard on the House floor. The deadline for it to advance is this Thursday.