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EXPLAINER: Death Penalty in Oklahoma

State Question 776 passes: Oklahomans agree to amend state Constitution to affirm death penalty
Posted at 4:16 PM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 17:04:31-05

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma is one of 27 states still practicing the death penalty. Since the re-legalization of the death penalty in 1976, Oklahoma executed the second most people in the United States.


The state considers first-degree murder punishable by death in the following situations:

  • The defendant was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
  • The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person.
  • The person committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employed another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration.
  • The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.
  • The murder was committed to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest or prosecution.
  • The murder was committed by a person while serving a sentence of imprisonment on conviction of a felony.
  • The existence of a probability the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.
  • The victim of the murder was a peace officer or correctional employee of an institution under the control of the Department of Corrections, and such person was killed while in performance of official duty.

Oklahoma is the only state that allows more than two methods of execution: lethal injection is Oklahoma's primary method, nitrogen hypoxia, electrocution, and firing squad to be used in that order if all earlier methods are unavailable or found to be unconstitutional.


State leaders put executions on hold after the 'botched' executions of Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett in 2014-15. In both cases, the execution process issues led to reviewing the state's lethal injection process. Executions resumed after new protocols were in place.

The state executed John Grant in the first execution under new protocols. Witnesses described his body going into convulsions and vomiting before being declared dead. The Department of Corrections said the execution went as planned.

WATCH: 2 News reporter witnessed execution

John Grant Executed By Lethal Injection


Since 1976 Oklahoma leaders granted commutation or clemency to 11 people from death row. Notable cases include:

  • Phillip Dewitt Smith: death sentence commuted in 2001 by Gov. Francis A. Keating
  • Osvaldo Torres: death sentence commuted to life without parole in 2004 by Gov. Brad Henry. Henry's decision followed a recommendation for clemency by the Pardon and Parole Board and a stay granted by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. The International Court of Justice ruled the Vienna Convention rights of Torres, and 50 other Mexican nationals on America's death rows were violated.
  • Kevin Young: commuted the death sentence to life without parole in 2008 by Gov. Brad Henry. Henry's decision followed a recommendation by the Pardon and Parole Board.
  • Richard Tandy Smith: commuted the death sentence to life without parole in 2010. Henry's decision followed a recommendation by the Pardon and Parole Board.


In late 2021, Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor scheduled the execution dates for seven inmates on death row.

WATCH: New attorney general talks to 2 News about priorities

Oklahoma's new Attorney General outlines his challenges

John Grant, was put to death on October 28th, 2021.

Julius Jones is the next scheduled inmate for execution. The Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for him in 2 different meetings.It is now up to Governor Kevin Stitt to determine if this recommendation will be granted.

Jones is scheduled to be executed on November 18th.

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