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Women rarely given death penalty in Oklahoma for crimes

Officials talk about the history of the death penalty in Oklahoma and famous cases involving the execution of women. Oklahoma is tied with Texas for the most female executions in the nation.
by Tiffany Gibson Modified: March 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm •  Published: March 5, 2012

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/articleid/3654466/1/pictures/1657042">Photo - Nannie Doss was sentenced to life in prison in 1955 for the arsenic death of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss. Oklahoman Archives photo
Nannie Doss was sentenced to life in prison in 1955 for the arsenic death of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss. Oklahoman Archives photo

“Oklahoma has had 97 executions (since 1976). But for three of them to be women in the modern era, that's 3 percent. Nationally, it's less than 1 percent,” he said.

Oklahoma inmates

Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said Oklahoma is No. 1 in the nation for the number of women incarcerated on a per-capita basis. He said the state has about 2,600 female offenders.

Of that number, 122 women are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole and 53 are serving life without the possibility of parole, Massie said.

At the time Doss was convicted of murdering several relatives, only seven women were serving life terms at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Oklahoma currently has one woman on death row — Brenda Andrew — who was sentenced to die for the Nov. 20, 2001, fatal shooting of her estranged husband, Oklahoma City ad executive Rob Andrew.

Convincing a jury

Wanda Jean Allen, a black woman convicted of killing her lesbian lover in 1988, was the first woman executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma. It was January 2001.

She was the first woman put to death in the state since 1903, four years before statehood.

Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Elliott, the prosecutor on the case, said she sought the death penalty because Allen had a prior assault and manslaughter case.

Throughout her 27 years with the district attorney's office, Elliott has handled many death penalty cases for men but only one for a woman.

Dieter said he thinks jurors sometimes give women the death penalty if they can't relate to her or the crime she committed. Some jurors might see women as victims, he said.

Elliott disagreed, saying the jury's decision is often based on the nature of the offense and the defendant's criminal history.

“It's hard to seek the death penalty against anybody. The vast majority of citizens here don't want to kill anybody,” Elliott said. “If you're like the average person, it's difficult to ask anyone to do that job.

“When Wanda Jean was executed, I lit a candle and said a prayer for her.” has disabled the comments for this article.
by Tiffany Gibson
News Online Editor
Tiffany Gibson has worked for the Oklahoman since August 2011 and is a member of the digital news team. In addition to writing and web editing, she also creates multimedia features for the website and maintains social media accounts. A Tennessee...
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Women and the death penalty

Death sentences and executions of female offenders are rare when compared to male offenders. Women are more likely to be dropped out of the capital punishment system the further the case progresses. Women account for:

about 1 in 10 (10%) murder arrests.

only 1 in 50 (2.1%) death sentences imposed at the trial level.

only 1 in 67 (1.8%) persons on death row.

only 1 in 100 (. 9%) persons actually executed in the modern era.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

Death Penalty Information

The death penalty law was enacted in 1977 by the state Legislature. The method is by lethal injection. The original death penalty law in Oklahoma called for executions to be carried out by electrocution. That law was ruled unconstitutional as it was administered when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

Oklahoma executed 176 men and three women between 1915 and 2011 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Eighty-two were executed by electrocution, one by hanging (a federal prisoner) and 96 by lethal injection. The last execution by electrocution took place in 1966. The first execution by lethal injection in Oklahoma occurred on Sept. 10, 1990, when Charles Troy Coleman, who was convicted in 1979 of first-degree murder in Muskogee County, was executed.

Execution Process

Drugs used for lethal injection:

Sodium Thiopental or Pentobarbital — causes unconsciousness

Vecuronium Bromide — stops respiration

Potassium Chloride — stops heart

Two intravenous lines are inserted, one in each arm. The drugs are injected by hand-held syringes simultaneously into the two lines. The sequence is in the order listed above. Three executioners take part with each one injecting one of the drugs.


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