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Garry Allen case among many challenges seen with death penalty

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: April 19, 2012

FUNNY but apocryphal is the tale of the youth who kills his own parents and then pleads for mercy based on the fact that he's an orphan.

Not funny but in the real world is the story of a man who was shot by police after fatally wounding his wife and then claiming he lacks the mental capacity to be executed, partly because he was shot by police after killing his wife.

So far, as a result of a series of court rulings, Garry Allen has escaped the death penalty to which he was sentenced. Allen was to have been given a lethal injection on April 12 in McAlester.

The case is a conundrum for society, one of many that surround capital punishment. Allen's attorneys say he already lacked mental capacity at the time of the crime. They not only claim his execution violates federal protections but that Oklahoma's procedure for establishing mental competency in general is unconstitutional.

We might as well throw this into the mix of disagreement about capital punishment. That stew has many ingredients already. Who can and who can't be executed is a moving target, currently excluding killers under a certain age at the time of the crime (Oklahoma was the last state to execute a juvenile, in 2003), mental capacity and, of course, the specifics of the crime itself. Immigration status has also played a role.

The definition of “cruel and unusual punishment” vis a vis the death penalty is itself a moving target — which is why American executions are now almost entirely limited to lethal injections.

Allen's case is instructive. The only question that should matter is his mental capacity at the time he killed his wife, not subsequently. Condemned killers can be on death row for 10 or 12 or more years. A lot can happen to mental capacity before the sentence is carried out, especially if the inmate is of an advanced age at the time of sentencing. One could argue that just living on a death row year after year diminishes mental capacity.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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