Bias and Stereotyping Sent Mentally Impaired Lesbian to Death Row, ACLU Tells OK Clemency Board

Affiliate: ACLU of Oklahoma
December 15, 2000 12:00 am

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Citing a “stunning combination” of concerns about bias and injustice, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged clemency for a severely mentally impaired African-American lesbian who is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 11.

In a letter sent to Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board – which is holding a clemency hearing in the case today – the ACLU said Wanda Jean Allen suffers brain damage and has been declared clinically borderline retarded, but her trial attorney and juries never knew about her mental incapacity.

Further, the ACLU contends that Allen received “alarmingly inadequate” legal representation. The state, and ultimately a judge, maintained before her trial that Allen had no choice but to be represented by a man who had never dealt with a capital murder case – and who received a total of $800 for representing her. Bias and stereotypes also played a role in Allen’s conviction and sentencing, the ACLU said.

“Oklahoma’s health system failed when Wanda Jean Allen’s serious mental problems went untreated. The state’s criminal justice system failed when she was forced to receive inadequate representation, and when bias based on race, class and sexual orientation entered the courtroom,” the ACLU’s clemency letter said. “Oklahoma’s ‘safety net’ did not just fail Wanda Jean Allen — it failed the whole state.”

The letter was signed by Joann Bell, Executive Director of the Oklahoma ACLU, along with Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, and Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. Bell will attend today’s clemency hearing.

If Allen’s execution is allowed to proceed, she will be one of eight people executed next month in Oklahoma, a state that Rust-Tierney said is executing people at a troubling rate. Since Gov. Frank Keating took office in 1995, there have been 27 executions statewide – 11 this year alone. In the same length of time prior to Keating’s administration, there had been three executions. Keating is widely believed to be a top contender for an appointment as U.S. Attorney General.

Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board – whose members are mostly appointed by the governor – has never granted clemency in a capital murder case. Bell said the ACLU’s efforts on behalf of Allen will continue and increase regardless of the outcome of today’s clemency hearing.

You will find a copy of the clemency letter at

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