Marilyn Plantz Clemency Letter
Executed May 1, 2001
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Hon. Frank Keating
212 State Capitol
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Re: Marilyn Plantz
Dear Governor Keating:
On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, we urge you to stay the execution of Marilyn Plantz and to ask the Oklahoma Pardon & Parole Board to reconsider its denial of clemency. Lingering questions about the fairness of Marilyn Plantz's trial merit this extraordinary relief.
Although the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ultimately denied Marilyn Plantz's post-conviction relief, the court's opinion indicates there are serious questions about the fairness of Marilyn Plantz's trial. Indeed, instead of acting to safeguard Mrs. Plantz's rights, given the gravity of the circumstances, the trial court repeatedly ruled against Mrs. Plantz in almost every instance in which she questioned the fairness of her trial.
For example, Marilyn Plantz sought to have her trial severed from her co-defendant William Clifford Bryson. As the Tenth Circuit indicated, there is no constitutional right to severance without a strong showing of prejudice by a joint trial. However, there are strong indications that the joint trial of Marilyn Plantz, a white woman in her late twenties, and Mr. Bryson, an African-American teenager with whom the married Marilyn Plantz was sexually involved, was, in fact, prejudicial to Mrs. Plantz. In fact, Mr. Bryson's attorney provoked condemnation of their relationship when he asked the jury during voir dire, "Doesn't make you wonder what she's doing with an 18-year old black kid? [sic]"
Further, the record indicates that the trial judge refused to remove for cause jurors who favored the death penalty, while with little hesitation removed jurors who expressed some hesitation in imposing a death sentence. For example, the trial judge denied Marilyn Plantz's request to remove a juror who indicated that at the time she learned of the crime she believed the perpetrators should receive the death penalty. The juror stated, "Maybe I'm too harsh on people, but that's what's wrong with this system. They let these people get by with this stuff and they put them off in the penitentiary for the rest of their life and we pay taxes and feed them and they sit there and get educated." In contrast, the trial judge removed at the State's request a juror who initially stated that "he could not agree to a verdict imposing the death penalty, but could possibly consider it."
The fact that Marilyn Plantz's conviction and sentence were upheld in legal proceedings does not diminish your or the Pardon & Parole Board's power or responsibility to consider and grant clemency. As an act of grace, clemency may be, and normally is, bestowed upon grounds other than the issue of guilt or innocence of the applicant, or the legality of the procedures by which she was convicted. In exercising your clemency powers, you and the Board should also consider that Marilyn Plantz has expressed remorse for her actions, has renewed her relationship with God, and is attempting to reconcile with her children.
The ACLU opposes capital punishment in all cases as a barbarous anachronism and in violation of the Constitution. However, the State of Oklahoma's death penalty statistics are particularly startling. The State of Oklahoma has executed forty people since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 and ten people alone since the beginning of this year. Further, during this period, the Pardon & Parole Board has granted clemency to only one death row inmate. Despite this unsettling record, the State of Oklahoma now has the opportunity, in mercy and as an act of grace, to demonstrate that before enforcing this ultimate punishment, it has done everything in its power to adequately safeguard the rights of those condemned to death.
ACLU Punishment Project
Amy L. Friedman
Pro Bono Counsel
Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, L.L.P.