Former Governor Brad Henry talks about death penalty review commission

Former Governor Brad Henry talks about death penalty review commission

The grand jury investigating Oklahoma's troubled execution process began meeting again Tuesday, but no matter what they find, Oklahoma's death penalty is getting its first ever top to bottom review. Helping lead the effort to review capital punishment is former Governor Brad Henry.

Related: Fox 25's coverage of Oklahoma's execution issues.

"The only time I ever lost sleep as the governor was when I was acting on those clemency hearings," Governor Henry told Fox 25, "That is the one time where literally by the stroke of the governor's pen someone lives or dies."

Henry granted clemency, following a recommendation by the Pardon and Parole Board, three times during his eight years in office. He also denied clemency. He remembers each difficult decision and the waiting by the phone on the day of executions. During his time in office, executions happened at midnight. Henry said he was by the phone until the execution was finished to fulfill his duty as Governor.

"It is a very, very sobering thing to have to do," Henry said, "I don't even like to think about it or talk about it; I don't think most people do."

It is that perspective the governor hopes to bring to a newly formed commission which will study the death penalty in Oklahoma. "We have no agenda," Henry said of the commission, "What we've agreed to is the system should be fair and it should be just."

The group was formed by The Constitution Project, a national nonpartisan nonprofit group that provides public policy research. They approached Governor Henry about being one of the co-chairs of a research-based review of capital punishment in Oklahoma.

"We have the grand jury currently focused on one small aspect of the capital punishment process, the execution aspect, but nobody's ever looked at the process from arrest through execution."

Are there racial disparities in executions? Do capital cases get adequate legal representation? Is the process fair? These are all good questions in search of good answers. The commission's goal is to review the data and provide those answers based on facts, not feelings.

"We hope that Oklahoma can set a positive example in this area for the rest of the country and that's important because obviously Oklahoma's been in the news quite a bit lately for some of the problems that have occurred in the execution process," Henry told Fox 25.

Henry said he has no idea what the outcome of the commission will be, but he hopes it answers the questions about what the costs and benefits are to capital punishment and if one is greater than the other.

The death penalty commission is all volunteer and is not being funded by the state. The commission hopes to have recommendations about what should change, or what should stay the same by early next year.

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