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ODOC requests 90-days in between executions to reduce stress

Feb. 1—State officials are once again asking the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to allow more time in between executions, claiming the current 60-days set in between executions "is too onerous and not sustainable."

A joint motion filed Tuesday by Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Executive Director Steven Harpe asks OCCA to set, at 90-day intervals, the phase three execution dates for six Oklahoma death row inmates.

State appellate judges ordered in July 2021 an execution schedule of 25 inmates to be carried out in five phases with ODOC currently in the second phase.

ODOC has carried out 11 executions since Oct. 28, 2021, with two executions remaining in phase two — Michael DeWayne Smith on April 4, 2024, and Wade Greely Lay on June 6, 2024, pending the outcome of his competency trial.

OCCA previously granted a request made by Drummond in January 2023 to allow 60 days between executions instead of the state's then pace of every 30 days to lessen the workload on Department of Corrections staff.

Harpe explains in an affidavit filed with the motion that the scheduling of an execution date "triggers a series of tasks that must be completed by DOC staff, many of which must occur weeks before the scheduled execution."

"The day of an execution affects not only those directly involved in the execution, but the entirety of Oklahoma State Penitentiary, which goes into a near complete lockdown until the execution is completed," Harpe wrote in his affidavit.

The director explained eight different teams comprised of several ODOC employees undergo several trainings in the weeks and days leading up to an execution date.

"Director Harpe has determined that the present pace of executions, every 60 days, is too onerous and not sustainable," Drummond wrote in the motion. "Instead, a sustainable pace would be every 90 days."

In a statement, Drummond said he personally met with the family members of the victims of the affected inmates to explain the reasoning for the request.

"These families have waited far too long for justice to be done," Drummond said. "Each family has a heartbreaking story of tragic loss, and it grieves me that the death penalty system takes so many years to deliver closure. Their day for justice draws closer. When that day comes, I will be there to bear witness."

The six Oklahoma death row inmates scheduled to be executed during phase three are: Richard Norman Rojem, Emmanuel Littlejohn, Kevin Ray Underwood, Wendell Arden Grissom, Tremane Wood and Kendrick Antonio Simpson.

Harpe said in a statement he appreciated AG Drummond's help in filing the motion.

"We appreciate Attorney General Drummond's help in navigating this petition to adjust executions to every 90 days. This will allow ODOC to carry out the court-ordered warrants within a timeframe that will minimize the disruptions to normal operations," Harpe said. "This pace also protects our team's mental health and allows time for them to process and recover between the scheduled executions."

No timeframe was given for when OCCA will rule on the request.