June 14, 2001
Chief Executive Officer
McAlester Regional Health Center
P.O. Box 1228
One Clark Bass Boulevard
McAlester, OK 74501
Via Facsimile: 918-421-8066
Dear Mr. Tate:
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections informs us, and your staff confirms, that the pharmaceutical agents used by state correctional authorities to perform executions by lethal injection are purchased from McAlester Regional Health Center. We are writing to urge you to halt the sale of these drugs to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Revelations that tainted evidence may have been used in capital trials in Oklahoma make your institution's participation in the administration of capital punishment particularly disturbing. We have also written to Governor Frank Keating, asking him to halt all executions.
Recent news reports suggest that an Oklahoma City police laboratory scientist, who served as a laboratory supervisor, may have offered misleading evidence and improper testimony in a number of criminal cases, underscoring the injustice of implementing an irrevocable death sentence when the administration of justice is inevitably fallible. Among the hundreds of cases that may have been compromised, eleven cases have already resulted in executions and twelve others have led to capital convictions.
Although the significance of tainted evidence in most of these cases has not yet been made clear, in the case of Robert Lee Miller, Jr., the Oklahoma City police laboratory scientist reportedly testified that hair from the crime scene was consistent with hair taken from Mr. Miller when, in fact, later DNA evidence incriminated another suspect, whom the forensic scientist had ruled out as a possible source of the hair. Mr. Miller served ten years on death row before being released in 1998. He is one of seven people who have been released from Oklahoma's death row in the last two decades.
Serious questions regarding the administration of the death penalty have been raised in recent months, including allegations of racial disparities in sentencing, prosecutorial misconduct, the morality of executing persons with mental retardation, and inadequate defense counsel for the indigent. Confronted with these issues, other states and municipalities have recently moved to end executions in their jurisdictions. Most notably, the Republican Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, imposed a moratorium on executions in January 2000, citing the cases of thirteen death row inmates who have been exonerated and released from Illinois' death row since 1977. Governor Ryan's order, along with calls for a moratorium from religious and political leaders who formerly supported the death penalty, reflects increasing concern with the application of capital punishment.
Despite these developments, Oklahoma continues to rely on the death penalty. Oklahoma leads the nation in executions this year, with thirteen people executed so far, thus exceeding the number of death sentences it carried out in 2000.
Human Rights Watch is a U.S.-based international human rights organization that monitors human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. We oppose capital punishment in all circumstances because of its cruel and inhumane nature. The cornerstone of human rights is respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person. These principles cannot be reconciled with the death penalty, a form of punishment that is unique in its barbarity and finality. Executions are inevitably carried out in an arbitrary manner, inflicted primarily on those most vulnerable to inadequate legal representation and bias: the poor, minorities, and those with mental illness or retardation. The intrinsic fallibility of all criminal justice systems assures that even when full due process of law is respected, innocent persons may be executed.
We urge your institution not to contribute to the troubling reliance on the death penalty in Oklahoma. By refusing to provide the Oklahoma Department of Corrections with the drugs used to administer lethal injection, McAlester Regional Health Center would uphold the professional ethics of the medical community, which is dedicated to preserving life, and join others who have recognized that the death penalty needs to be abolished.
cc: Judge Robert Layden, Chairman of the Board
Francis Stipe, Vice Chairman of the Board