McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

January 8, 2011

Life on Death Row — Execution Day

McALESTER — Terry Crenshaw is the warden’s assistant at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He explained the schedule for a condemned inmate on the day of execution.

Thirty days prior to the execution date, there is a notification hearing in which the inmate:

• Requests a last meal — the meal can cost no more than $15 and must be ordered from a business in the McAlester area. (An inmate can’t have their family cook them something because it could get laced with a harmful substance.)

• Names witnesses — the inmate has the opportunity to list any chosen witnesses. (This list typically includes the inmate’s family members and lawyers. The Warden then has the discretion to approve or disapprove any persons on this list.)

• Schedules visitations — the inmate will schedule all pre-execution visits with both family members and lawyers.

• Sets phone list — the inmate will submit a list of phone numbers. These phone numbers correlate with the people he wishes to call in the days, and hours, prior to his execution.

• Names spiritual advisor — although the DOC has a chaplain on staff, and this person is available to the inmate for spiritual advising, the inmate can also choose to have a different spiritual advisor available.

• Names who will claim the body — the inmate will give direction to the DOC regarding who will claim his/her body following the execution.

On the morning of the execution, the condemned inmate is taken from his cell and X-rayed and strip searched. This process, “to make sure there are no foreign bodies in him,” Crenshaw said, is to ensure that the inmate has no possession of harmful materials that could hurt him prior to the scheduled execution.

(Crenshaw referred to one condemned inmate that had obtained a harmful drug on the day of his execution. This inmate was rushed to the hospital only hours before his scheduled execution. His stomach was pumped, his life was saved and he was taken back to the penitentiary where his court ordered execution was carried out — a few hours late.)

Once the X-ray and strip search are complete, the inmate is given new clothing and placed in a holding cell that is just a few feet away from the execution chamber. Anytime the inmate leaves this cell for a visit, he is showered and receives a new set of clothes. There are “three officers that will monitor and log his every movement,” Crenshaw said. “There’s nothing he does that isn’t logged on the day of execution.”

The inmate is able to visit with family and lawyers in the morning hours on the day of execution. This visitation availability ceases at noon, unless there is special permission for visitation granted by the warden. Then between 12 and 1 p.m., the inmate is served his last meal. The inmate has phone privileges for the next few hours to call anyone designated on his phone list. The inmate is then granted a final visit at 4 p.m. with a spiritual advisor.

Shortly before the hour of execution nears, the inmate will be taken from the holding cell and “afforded the opportunity to freely walk with staff” into the execution chamber. Crenshaw explained that this is the only time a death row inmate, during his time spent in the maximum security unit, is afforded the opportunity to walk freely amongst staff. Any other time the inmate walks in the facility with staff, he is bound by cuffs and shackles.

Allowing the condemned to make this final walk on his own, Crenshaw says, will “afford the inmate his dignity.” This final walk is approximately 4 feet, from the holding cell to the execution chamber.

Once in the execution chamber, the inmate has two IVs placed — one in each arm. This is done in the case that one fails, Crenshaw said. At this point, the three executioners are already in place behind a wall and unseen by anyone involved with the execution.

The executioners, chosen previously by the warden, are picked up earlier in the day at an undisclosed location, to keep their identities private. They are then transported to the prison, with their faces hooded, and are the first to enter the execution room. They are also the last to leave the execution room and they do so wearing the same hoods they wore upon entry.

The victim’s family are then transported to the execution viewing room, where they sit behind one-sided glass for the sake of anonymity. The press and media witnesses are then escorted into the viewing room.

Finally, the inmate’s family members are brought into the viewing room where they sit in the row of chairs closest to the viewing window.

The DOC director, who is on an open line with the governor’s office, will get word to proceed with (or cease) the execution process.

At this time the closed shades, which cover the window between the viewing room and the execution chamber, are raised and the warden asks the inmate if he has any last words.

The inmate is allowed two minutes to speak. Then the warden typically says: “Let the execution begin.” The three executioners then administer the three-drug combination of lethal injections, and the inmate loses consciousness.

Contact Rachel Petersen at rpetersen@mcalesternews.com.

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