The Reverend Jesse Jackson's Letter to Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma

January 8, 2001 The Honorable Frank Keating
Office of the Governor
212 State Capitol Building
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Dear Governor Keating:

I am writing today to express my deep concern over one of the pressing issues facing you in Oklahoma, particularly this month and to make a moral plea. As you are well aware, your state is scheduled to execute eight of its citizens in the next 25 days. I write this letter with a heavy heart as tomorrow night the killings will commence unless you take decisive action. I appeal to you, as a fellow human being, to stop this bloodbath before it begins.

The first execution, that of Robert "Eagle" Clayton, was slated for January 4th, when he received a 30 day stay from Lt. Governor Mary Fallin, just hours before his execution was to take place. Tomorrow night, Oklahoma will execute Eddie Leroy Trice followed by Wanda Jean Allen on Thursday, January 11th.

As you know, I visited Wanda Jean at Mabel Basset Correctional Center on January 4th, along with Rev. J.A. Reed and Representative Opio Toure. We had prayer and she was strong in spirit in spite of the ordeal she is facing. It is clear to me, from what I have read and witnessed myself, that this woman suffers from mental retardation and further that she lacked the legal representation that should have been available to anyone facing such a serious crime.

This is not a question of actual innocence, whether or not she committed the crime. She has never denied shooting Gloria Leathers. It is a question of mercy. Wanda Jean Allen has an I.Q. of 69. She has the mental capacity of someone nine years seven months, according to one expert who examined her as far back as 1975, when she was just 16. At that time it was recommended by psychologist Martin Krimsky, Ph.D. that Wanda Jean receive "some form of protective control with emphasis on socialized and vocational training." This never happened. The state health system failed her. Then the state's criminal justice system failed her. Those mistakes may well be the reason Detra Pettus and Gloria Leathers are not alive today, and why Wanda Jean could be dead on January 12th.

While the state of Oklahoma knew of Wanda Jean's mental disabilities, neither her attorney nor the jury learned of her disorder. Additionally, the attorney hired by Wanda Jean's family had never before defended a capital case, and in fact asked the court to be removed once the state filed capital charges. He was forced to remain on the case and his request for assistance from the public defenders office was denied. That is not justice. That is not right.

In today's Tulsa World you were quoted as saying, "[i]nstead of marching and demanding, what we ought to do is make sure the people who are subject to an execution have solid and sound representation and all of the scientific evidence available to support their guilt." You were further quoted as saying, "If the situation were as serious as some on the criminal defense side would suggest, then you would see a flurry of reversals, and you don't see that, which would indicate to me that inadequate counsel and inadequate technical support are both overstated problems. To the extent that any of that is true, I am obviously willing always to address it." I believe that you are as good as your word and therefore ask you to thoroughly look into the facts of Wanda Jean Allen's representation. If you do that, I am convinced you will see that her representation was irreparably inadequate.

Quite apart from the specific cases in Oklahoma, it is my belief that it is neither our job nor our right as a people, as a government or as a country, to use homicide as an instrument of social policy. If one of the most fundamental aspects of human development is learning by example, what then are we teaching our children by carrying out the barbaric practice of state-sanctioned killing? As Gandhi so simply put it, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

In light of the U.S. Justice Department's findings released this past September, detailing disturbing racial and geographic disparities in the application of the federal death penalty, I urge you, as Governor of Oklahoma, to examine these same questions as they apply to your state. In the meantime, given the finality of any execution, I urge you to issue a statewide moratorium on the death penalty and to stop the first execution of a woman in Oklahoma since statehood, by granting a reprieve to Wanda Jean Allen.

The national dialogue has been rekindled. Public concern over the growing number of wrongfully convicted men and women released from death row continues to mount. In January of this year, I applauded Governor Ryan for his courageous decision to suspend the death penalty in my home state of Illinois. At least 10 states, and countless city governments, over the last several months are considering moratorium proposals, and the momentum is growing daily.

There is no doubt we have an imperfect system in place, as the current Justice Department study shows. While I understand that the Justice Department continues further studies as a result of some of the issues raised by their report, this alone cannot satisfy the growing public concern that our system of justice is alarmingly skewed. This study raises enough serious questions about the application of the death penalty in our federal system that I call on all Governors in State's that continue to use capital punishment as a tool for justice, to also suspend executions, at least until these issues can be addressed. We cannot simply be troubled, rather we must take action.

Given the extraordinary politicization of the death penalty today, your support for a moratorium would demonstrate that you are willing to do what is right even in the face of potential criticism. As Governor you have the unique ability to offer the leadership required to guide Oklahoma away from judicial executions and towards a better and more humane system of justice. Remember it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands during challenge and controversy."

By taking this stance you would be setting an example of courage over cowardice, of humanity over brutality. Your call for a moratorium would follow in the best traditions of Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez. It would be clear by this act that you remain committed to the principles of justice and fairness. This is a unique opportunity to be on the right side of history and to leave a lasting legacy as a true champion of human rights for all people.

On the heels of your National Championship, you should be proud that Oklahoma is #1 in football. However, there should be no joy in the fact that Oklahoma will soon be #1 (per capita) in executions. Once again, I heartily urge you to take this bold step and call for reflection and examination. I look forward to continuing our dialogue and working with you at this critical juncture in your state's development.


Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.