A recent Huffington Post article about a handful of counties with high death penalty rates and questionable justice systems highlighted Oklahoma County. The portion of the story discussing Oklahoma focuses primarily on the controversial legacy of former Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert “Cowboy Bob” Macy. Macy was renowned for his strong belief in the death penalty. In 2001, shortly after the end of his 21 year career as DA, Macy was asked by the New York Times about the 54 people he convicted and received a death penalty sentence over that time period, calling them ”remorseless killers who would kill again if given the opportunity.”
“He once said that executing an innocent person was a risk he was willing to take.
But Macy’s legacy has taken a hit in recent years. Toward the end of his career, and in the years since, appellate courts have excoriated him and his deputy prosecutors for misconduct in their pursuit of convictions. The most recent example came last June, when the state’s supreme court suspended the law license of former Oklahoma County deputy District Attorney Brad Miller for 180 days, due to his “reprehensible conduct” in a 1993 death penalty case.”
Miller is still under that 180 day suspension.
The article also touches on the controversial career of Joyce Gilchrist, whose forensic testimony was used in almost half of Macy’s death penalty convictions.
“Gilchrist’s knack for matching forensic evidence to the prosecutors’ preferred suspect earned her the nickname “Black Magic.” Gilchrist’s testimony was particularly devastating because Oklahoma judges generally did not grant indigent defendants the funds to hire their own forensic specialists to review her work. Despite her diminishing reputation in the forensics community, Macy’s office continued to use her. Macy retired in 2000. In 2001, DNA testing exonerated Jeffrey Todd Pierce for a rape he had been convicted of committing in 1986. Gilchrist’s testimony was the main evidence against him. She was fired the following year, and Oklahoma began reviewing over 1,500 cases in which she had testified.”
The article is anchored by a Death Penalty Information Center report that found 2 percent of the nation’s counties perform over half of the executions in the U.S. Those counties also currently hold over half of those on death row nationwide. According to the report, Oklahoma executed 38 inmates from Oklahoma County between 1976 and 2012, ranking the county third on the list. The state has executed 106 total during that time frame. 11 of those 38 that have been executed were convicted in part due to testimony from Gilchrist.
Oklahoma currently has 55 inmates on death row, with 28 from Oklahoma County cases.
The report also found that Oklahoma was one of only four states that performed 60 percent of the nation’s executions from 1976-2012. The other states are Florida, Texas, and Virginia.
A 2007 article by the Innocence Project about the case of Curtis Edward McCarty noted that McCarty was the ninth Oklahoman on death row to be exonerated. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the state has exonerated 10 inmates on death row. Five of those were from Oklahoma County, said the Huffington Post article.
The Innocence Project opened an Oklahoma chapter in 2011.