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Sen. Tom Coburn: I don't like death penalty but it's a deterrent

by Chris Casteel Published: May 1, 2014
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WASHINGTON — In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program on Thursday morning, Sen. Tom Coburn said he doesn’t like the death penalty but still believes it serves as deterrent. And he said endorsements by high-profile Republicans in the race to replace him could backfire in Oklahoma.

Appearing two days after something went wrong in the execution of an Oklahoma death row inmate, Coburn, R-Muskogee, said the injection of lethal drugs “was certainly not done appropriately” and that the procedure appeared to lack a back-up system.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the investigation by the governor’s office and the prison system there shows,” said Coburn, a physician. “It’s an unfortunate thing but, again, anytime you’re doing anything with the body, things can go wrong.

“Of course, this leads to the discussion about the death penalty and whether or not it, in and of itself, is appropriate and whether it can be done humanely … I’d say I’ve given a lot of thought. I still think it has a deterrent capability. I don’t like it. I wish we put everybody that had such a history as this gentleman behind bars working and doing things that would help them.

“But I haven’t changed my position. I think it is a deterrent that does affect and impact people.”

He said there had been relatively few mistakes in administering lethal injections.

“Oklahoma will correct it,” he said. “They’ll be transparent about what happened. They’ll fix what happened. And they’ll go on down the road.”

Coburn, who is foregoing the final two years of his term and resigning after the current session of Congress, was asked about Sarah Palin and two Tea Party U.S. senators getting involved in the race to replace him. The three held a rally last week for state Rep. T.W. Shannon, one of the Republicans running for Coburn’s seat.

“I think there will be a backlash from their effect there,” Coburn said. “Oklahomans don’t like being told who to vote for.”

Coburn noted that some in the Washington GOP establishment had gotten behind one of his opponents in 2004 when Coburn first ran for the Senate seat.

“That individual wound up getting about 30 percent, when I got 62,” Coburn said.

Coburn was apparently referencing former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who got only 25 percent of the vote in the 2004 Republican primary, while Coburn got 61 percent. Many of those endorsing Humphreys had done so before Coburn announced his intention to run.

Oklahomans, he said Thursday, would “just as soon everybody stay out and let us figure it out, what we want.”


by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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