ACLU Denounces Oklahoma Governor for Allowing Execution of Mentally Impaired Woman

January 12, 2001 12:00 am

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The American Civil Liberties Union today denounced Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating’s refusal to grant a 30-day reprieve to Wanda Jean Allen, who was executed last night despite the fact that she was deprived of adequate legal representation.

“It is shocking that the state of Oklahoma forced Allen’s lawyer to investigate and defend her case her for only the $800 that her family could scrape together,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “That’s not due process, as Governor Keating claims to endorse, that’s another example of the unfairness of the death penalty.”

Wanda Jean Allen was sentenced to death for shooting her partner, Gloria Leathers, in a domestic dispute. Allen’s lawyer, who had never tried a death penalty case before, lacked the resources to investigate or defend her case properly. Nevertheless, an Oklahoma Court forced Allen’s lawyer to represent her at trial without assistance from the public defenders office or resources to properly investigate the case.

Neither was Allen’s lawyer made aware of state generated psychiatric reports that showed his client to be seriously mentally impaired. Because the lawyer was not aware this information existed, the jury never heard about Allen’s mental impairments and other issues that might well have convinced them to choose a prison term over a death sentence.

“Governor Keating has said that he understands his duty to ensure that defendants in capital cases in Oklahoma have due process,” Rust-Tierney said. “But in this case, when the inexperience and failures of the lawyer are glaring, he looked the other way.”

Wanda Jean Allen’s case has also garnered a great deal of attention in the lesbian and gay community because of concerns that bias against her sexual orientation may have played a part in her trial. Prosecutors referred repeatedly to Wanda Jean Allen’s sexual orientation during her trial, relying on stereotypes about lesbians.

“This is not over,” said Joann Bell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. “There are serious problems in Oklahoma’s death penalty system that will not be swept under the rug with this execution or the others scheduled to follow. Each time the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Parole refuse to do their jobs — to provide a relief when lawyers fail miserably to defend their clients — our argument for a moratorium on executions is strengthened.”

Four of the eight people scheduled for execution in Oklahoma during the next 30 days were denied adequate legal representation, Bell said. The four prisoners could not afford to hire lawyers, and those lawyers assigned to them by the state lacked the experience and financial resources to investigate their cases thoroughly. Five of the Oklahoma inmates scheduled to be killed this month are mentally ill, mentally retarded, and/or victims of childhood abuse.

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