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Change made appeals predictable in Oklahoma

BY JULIE BISBEE Published: May 3, 2009
Reforms pushed by people who lost loved ones in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building have had a great impact on the death penalty appeals process for death row inmates.

This past week, attorneys general from across the country were in Oklahoma City for training on several topics, including the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

The act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton and backed by several people who lost loved ones as a result of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The bombing killed 168 people.

Nearly 13 years after the changes were put in place, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says the reforms help to make the death penalty appeals process "more predictable” and still affect family members who once worried justice would hang in the balance during the appeals process.

"It was unpredictable before,” Edmondson said. "You never knew when the end of the appeals process was going to come. It was very frustrating to victims and their families.”

While prosecutors favor the measure, defense attorneys say the changes in federal appeals law were irresponsible.

"In short, it’s made it much simpler for states to kill people,” said Jack King, spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

What families said

In 1996, family members of those killed in the bombing rallied state and federal lawmakers for change. They were awaiting the convictions of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols. McVeigh was convicted, and in 2001 he was executed. Nichols was convicted and is serving a life sentence without parole.

In a 1996 letter to the editor published in The Oklahoman, a group said they pushed for the reforms because "our death penalty appeals process has made a mockery of the criminal justice system.”

"We can’t let terrorism rule our lives,” said the letter signed by 29. "We must demand that Congress enact meaningful anti-terrorism laws, including the reform of the death penalty appeals process.”


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