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What do jurors consider in an Oklahoma death penalty case?

Posted at 12:29 PM, Apr 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 19:12:24-04

TULSA, Okla. — Jurors in the trial for David Ware are expected to come to a decision on Wednesday after taking several factors into consideration in relation to the death penalty.

Former Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris prosecuted 10 cases seeking the death penalty in more than two decades of trial experience.

"Each [case] is different unto themselves, but a death penalty is different," Harris says. "Not every first-degree murder carries the death penalty, You have to have under Oklahoma law called aggravating circumstances for the jury to even consider death."

There are eight aggravators but only one has to be present to consider the death penalty. In Ware's case, the jury considered five aggravators:

  • The victim murdered was a peace officer
  • The risk of death was to more than one person
  • The defendant poses a continuing threat to society with the risk of future acts of violence
  • The murder was heinous, atrocious and cruel
  • The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or prevention lawful arrest or prosecution

"It's a weighing process between aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances," Harris says.
The defense attorneys in Ware's trial presented mitigating circumstances like Ware's childhood of abuse, his relationship with his daughter, and his faith. If the aggravators don't outweigh the mitigators and a jury decides death is not an appropriate punishment, it can then consider sentences of life with or without the possibility of parole.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors hear victim impact statements which Harris says humanizes the case. Jurors in Ware's trial heard impact statements from Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson's widow and son.

Harris says the jury's decision can be heart-wrenching.

"I always said you know, if you are going to stand up before citizens in this community and ask them to consider the ultimate punishment where we say under the law a human being has to give up their life for the crime that they committed it has to be the worst of the worst."

In a death penalty case, all 12 jurors must reach a unanimous decision.

An automatic appeal before the Court of Criminal appeals comes next after a death penalty sentence.

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