Executed January 11, 2001 by Lethal Injection in Oklahoma
4th murderer executed in U.S. in 2001 B / F / 29
687th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
6th female murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
2nd murderer executed in Oklahoma in 2001
32nd murderer executed in Oklahoma since 1976
1st female murderer executed in Oklahoma since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Wanda Jean Allen
B / F / 29 - 41
Gloria Jean Leathers
Victim, who lived with Allen in a lesbian relationship, was picked up by her mother and taken to police station to file complaint against Allen. Allen followed and confronted them outside station, shot victim in stomach at close range. They had met in prison, where Allen was serving time for manslaughter after killing former lover Detra Pettus in 1981.
4th murderer executed in U.S. in 2001
B / F / 29
Allen v. State, 871 P .2d 79 (Okla.Crim.App. 1994), cert. denied 513 U.S. 952 (1994).
Allen v. State, 909 P.2d 836 (Okla.Crim.App.1995).
Allen v. Massie, 202 F.3d 281 (10th Cir. 2000).
Allen v. Massie, 121 S.Ct. 616 (2000).
Allen v. Massie, 121 S.Ct. 244 (2000).
Allen v. Massie, 236 F.3d 1243 (10th Cir. 2001).
Allen v. Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Bd., 121 S.Ct. 848 (2001).
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
Oklahoma Attorney General
10-02-2000 - W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General - Six Execution Dates Requested, Including Female
Attorney General Drew Edmondson today asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for six death row inmates following a denial of their final appeals earlier Monday by the United States Supreme Court. Included in Edmondson's request was Wanda Jean Allen of Oklahoma County, who would become the first female to be executed since statehood. Others for whom an execution date was requested were: Floyd Allen Medlock, Canadian County; Phillip Dewitt Smith, Muskogee County; Robert William Clayton, Tulsa County; Dion Athanasius Smallwood, Oklahoma County; and Eddie Leroy Trice, Oklahoma County.
Allen, 41, murdered her roommate, Gloria Jean Leathers, 29, in front of The Village Police Department in northwest Oklahoma City on Dec. 1, 1988. Leathers had driven to the police station following a domestic argument with Allen. Allen followed her and fired a single gunshot into her abdomen. Allen had previously received a four-year prison sentence for first degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Detra Pettus on June 29, 1981.
Medlock, 29, kidnaped, sexually assaulted and stabbed to death Katherine Ann Busch, 7, on Feb. 19, 1990. Busch's body was found early the next morning in a dumpster behind a shopping center near the Woodoaks Apartments in Yukon, where she lived with her mother.
Death Penalty Institute of Oklahoma
Wanda Jean Allen, 41, was executed by Oklahoma on Thursday, January 11, at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Allen, who was killed by lethal injection, was pronounced dead at 9:15pm. Allen had been sentenced to death for the 1988 shooting death of her girlfriend, Gloria Jean Leathers, 29. Allen was the first woman to be executed by the state since 1903. The only other documented of a woman here, which occurred before statehood, was of Dora Wright. Like Allen, Wright was black. Allen was the first black woman to be executed in the US since 1954. She was the sixth woman to be executed in this country since executions resumed in 1977. While lying on the execution gurney, Allen said "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
Governor Frank Keating denied a request earlier in the day for a 30-day stay of execution for Allen. Allen's attorney, Steve Presson, had argued that Allen did not receive a fair clemency hearing, because the state misled the board with regard to Allen's education. This was an issue because of Allen's mental retardation. Before making his decision, Keating met with the Rev Jesse Jackson and Oklahoma Attorney Drew Edmondson. Jackson has been in the state twice in the past two weeks in support of a moratorium on executions. On Wednesday night, Jackson -- along with two or three dozen others -- was arrested for trespassing at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma City. As part of Jackson's protest, he spent the night in jail.
On December 2, 1988, Gloria J. Leathers, 29, was shot in front of The Village Police Department in Oklahoma City. The shooting suspect was identified as Wanda Jean Allen, 28. Fifteen minutes before the shooting, the two women, who lived at the same address, were involved in a dispute at a grocery store. A city officer escorted the two women to their house and stood by while the victim collected her belongings. Leathers and her mother were on their way to file a complaint against Allen. When Leathers exited the car, the Allen fired one shot, wounding Leathers in the abdomen. Leathers' mother witnessed the shooting. Two police officers and a dispatcher heard the shot fired, but none of the police department employees witnessed the shooting. The police recovered a.38-caliber handgun they believe was used in the shooting in an area near the the women's home.
Allen was charged with shooting with intent to kill. In 1982 she had been sentenced to four years in prison on a manslaughter conviction. She was released in 1984 for that conviction. Allen and Leathers had met in prison. Allen was arrested in Duncan on December 6, 1988. Two hours after Allen's arrest, Gloria J. Leathers died. Before she died, she was able to tell police that Allen was the person who shot her. On December 7, 1988, Allen was charged with first-degree murder. Allen and Leathers had met while in prison together in 1982. On April 19, 1989, jurors rejected Allen's claim of self-defense and found her guilty of first degree murder. After learning that Allen also killed a friend in 1981, jurors took only two hours to decide that Allen should be sentenced to death.
Allen's first appeal requesting rehearing was denied on February 15, 1994. An opinion affirming denial of post-conviction relief was issued on December 27, 1995. Claimant's appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit was denied on January 11, 2000.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board held a clemency hearing for Wanda Jean Allen on December 15, at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center. There were approximately 181 people (the fire marshall's occupancy limit) allowed into the hearing. Prison officials turned away dozens of others and ordered them to leave the premises. The board voted 3-1 against recommending clemency to Governor Keating. Chairperson Susan Bussey was the sole vote in favor of clemency. Of the five current members of the board, Bussey is the only member to have ever voted in favor of clemency.
The Rev Robin Meyers, minister of the Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, begged the board to spare Allen's life. He asked the board "What do you think Jesus would do?" During the hearing it was pointed out by Meyers that Allen had been found to have an IQ of 69 at the age of 15. This is considered as mental retardation.
Allen's trial attorney, Robert Carpenter, was paid only $800 to represent her. [Editor's Note: It typically takes 500-1000 hours to prepare for a capital murder case. For her attorney to properly represent her, he would have been working for between $0.80 and $1.60 per hour.] Carpenter had agreed to represent Allen before the prosecution announced they would seek the death penalty. Having never represented a client in a capital case, Carpenter asked to be removed from the case and have competent counsel appointed. The prosecutors argued that he should not be allowed to withdraw, and the court agreed. Carpenter never had any psychological tests performed on Allen, so the evidence of her mental retardation was never brought up at trial.
Board member Currie Ballard, one of Governor Keating's three appointees, scolded Rev Meyers for suggesting the board would willingly seek to execute a mentally retarded person. However, he then went on to vote that Allen should be executed. When Allen spoke during the hearing, she asked Leathers' family for forgiveness. She also begged the board to "please let me live."
At least 13 or 14 vigils were held at various locations around the state. There was a large turnout for the vigil outside the gates of Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
(Background by Lynn Sissons; Clemency information by Robert Peebles)
Wanda Jean Allen's victim and one-time lover, Gloria Jean Leathers, died four days after being shot at close range in 1988 by Allen in front of the Village Police Station in Oklahoma City. Allen said she and Leathers were both out of control. Leathers had called her mother to pick her up from the house where she and Allen lived. After packing her belongings, Leathers and her mother went to the police station to file a compliant against Allen. Allen followed Leathers and shot her. Leathers' mother, Ruby Wilson of Edmond, witnessed the killing.
On Oct. 13, Ruby Wilson met with her daughter's killer. "I wanted to tell her how sorry I was for taking her daughter's life. And I know there is no greater love than a mother's love for a child because I have a mother as well. And I asked for her forgiveness. She forgave me. We prayed together. And I let her know I loved her for coming that day." Leathers and Allen met in prison. Allen was serving a 4-year sentence for manslaughter. On June 29, 1981, at a motel in Oklahoma City, Allen shot to death Detra Pettus following an argument with Pettus' boyfriend. "We was friends," Allen said of Pettus. "We grew up together. We lived in the same neighborhood. We had mutual friends." While some prosecutors say that Allen and Leathers had a relationship in prison, Allen said that was not the case. Allen was released from prison before Leathers. When Leathers got out, she called Allen. "She didn't have a place to stay," Allen said. "She and her family were having problems. I allowed her to come and live with me because I know how hard it is when you get out. "By me being locked up, I understood that situation. You have to help people when they get out. Someone had helped me when I got out, so in turn I wanted to help someone as well." The pair lived together on and off for three years. She described Leathers as funny and witty. "It was the wrong type of lifestyle," she said of the lesbian relationship. "It didn't make either of us less human than if we were in a heterosexual relationship, a bisexual relationship. We are still human. We have emotions. We laugh. We cry. It was part of our life."
At her trial, Oklahoma County prosecutors painted Allen as a person who hunted down her victims. Prosecutors introduced a card Allen had given Leathers. The card had a gorilla on it. The printed message said, "Patience my ass. I am going to kill something." Inside, Allen had written, "Try and leave me and you will understand this card more. Dig. For real, no joke." Leathers was portrayed as meek and timid. Allen said her attorney was not given a fair shot at defending her and was limited in what he could present.
In 1979, Leathers was arrested in Tulsa for the stabbing death of Sheila Marie Barker, whom she killed outside a Tulsa disco. A judge later determined the slaying was self-defense. Ruby Wilson of Edmond can recall her daughter's murder as if it were just yesterday. The 57-year-old was an eyewitness in 1988 when Wanda Jean Allen shot Gloria Jean Leathers during a confrontation in front of the Village Police Station, where Wilson and her daughter had gone to file a report against Allen. Wilson said they had just pulled up to the station after leaving the house where Allen and Leathers had lived on and off for three years. Wilson said Leathers was moving out. Leathers was exiting the car when Allen, who had followed them, walked up with her hands underneath a sweatshirt. After exchanging words with Allen, Leathers was leaning into the car to pick up her purse when Allen "stuck it to my baby's ribs . . . she stuck it to her stomach and shot her. It sounded like a cap gun." Leathers slumped into the car. Four days later, she died following surgery, Wilson said. "I don't have any grudges against her," Wilson said. "I don't hate her, but I hate what she did. I hope she found peace with Christ about it. It does hurt. I will never forget it. I will always see it. That is in the past. I have to go on toward the future."
Wilson on Oct. 13 met with Allen, who asked for forgiveness. "Being bitter won't solve anything," Wilson said. "It won't help me. It can't bring my baby back." Leathers left behind three children, whom Wilson has raised. "Her children have suffered," Wilson said. "I am too forgiving. They are not." Robert Ferguson Jr., Leathers' brother, is also not forgiving Allen. Ferguson said it is the second time that Allen has shot and killed someone. Allen served part of a four-year sentence for manslaughter stemming from the June 29, 1981, killing of Detra Pettus. "Second of all, she did it in front of my mother in front of a police station," said Ferguson, who lives in Jefferson City, Mo., and is a supervisor for the U.S. Postal Service. "So, I don't feel sorry for her, you know." Ferguson plans to witness Allen's execution, which is set for shortly after 9 p.m. Jan. 11 at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. "If I could say anything to her, I don't know," Ferguson said. "I would say I am sorry this had to happen, but you brought it on yourself." Mary Ann Leathers, 39, who lives in Tulsa and is a day-care provider, also plans to witness the execution. She describes her sister as sweet, friendly and a person who would "give you anything. Sometimes you didn't have to ask for it." Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said "I have my own personal opinion about the death penalty. I don't think it should ever be treated lightly. I am no more troubled by her case than I am any other case that we handle."
Twenty-four relatives of murder victim Gloria Leathers and manslaughter victim Detra Pettus traveled to McAlester for the execution. Many of those relatives watched the execution from behind a tinted window. Detra Pettus' mother, Delma Pettus, and sisters, Rhonda Pettus and Sherri Wilson said Allen spent four years in prison after their loved one "was pistol whipped and shot at point-blank range. The short prison stays are a part of the reason crimes are repeated," the Pettus' statement read. "It has taken 20 years and a second murder in order to get the death penalty."
Allen's last chance for life was erased about 7:30 p.m. Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in her case. A few hours earlier, the same appeal was rejected by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. "Ms. Allen has failed to substantiate her allegation of a due process violation," the Denver judges concluded 3-0, referring to her claim that an assistant attorney general used false evidence against her at her unsuccessful Dec. 15 clemency hearing. Forty-five minutes after the 10th Circuit's decision, Keating denied a stay of execution. Keating said the courts had pondered the case for 12 years, and that Allen had lodged 11 different appeals since her conviction. "This is not easy because I am dealing with a fellow human being ... with a fellow Oklahoman," the governor said. "I have debated and discussed this, and now have resolved to deny the extension of 30 days. I care very deeply for the victims of crime. I have no use for killers, but I have a deep and abiding faith in the rule of law. I have to think about the woman she murdered in cold blood. I grieve for the families; I grieve for the dead. If a person takes another's life premeditated, they take their own."
The Lamp of Hope (Associated Press & Rick Halperin)
January 11, 2001 OKLAHOMA - Just hours after Gov. Frank Keating and the U.S. Supreme Court dashed her final hopes for life, 2-time killer Wanda Jean Allen was strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal drugs tonight. Allen, 41, was pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Her death marked the 1st execution of a woman in Oklahoma since statehood. She joined a murderer's row of 114 men electrocuted, hung and poisoned by the state since 1915.
"2 families were victimized by Wanda Jean Allen," Attorney General Drew Edmondson told more than 50 reporters and photographers before the execution. "Our thoughts are with them. They have waited a dozen years for justice in this case."
Allen was condemned to die in the 1988 murder of her lesbian lover, Gloria Leathers, who was shot outside The Village police station. "Our loved one wasn't given a choice about life," Leathers' family said in a written statement Thursday night. "She didn't even have a chance to look Wanda in the face to ask her to spare her life. She shot her in the abdomen at a very close range on the steps of a jailhouse. That alone makes us believe she could do this again as she had already done before."
At the time of Leathers' murder, Allen was on probation after serving prison time for the 1981 manslaughter of Detra Pettus. Pettus' mother, Delma Pettus, and sisters, Rhonda Pettus and Sherri Wilson said Allen spent 4 years in prison after their loved one "was pistol whipped and shot at point-blank range." "The short prison stays are a part of the reason crimes are repeated," the Pettus' statement read. "It has taken 20 years and a 2nd murder in order to get the death penalty."
Allen became the 6th woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 - and the 1st black woman executed since Ohio electrocuted Betty Jean Butler in 1954. Allen was the 2nd of 8 Oklahoma inmates scheduled to die by lethal injection in a 4-week period. A 9th inmate, Robert William Clayton, won a 30-day stay of execution last week after new DNA evidence was found on the eve of his scheduled death.
Allen's case drew national attention as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others accused Oklahoma of becoming a "killing machine." Questions were raised about Allen's mental competency, as Jackson made 2 trips to Oklahoma to rally on her behalf and call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma. State Corrections Department officials denied Jackson's last-minute request to witness the execution. Jackson's name was not on the list Allen gave prison officials 2 weeks ago so he was not authorized to witness the execution, corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said. Jackson did not travel to McAlester. He instead joined death penalty opponents in a Thursday night protest outside the governor's mansion.
Defense attorneys claimed Allen was borderline mentally retarded and had an IQ measured at 69 in the 1970s. Prosecutors, however, said she was a fully functioning adult who held a job, managed her finances and knew right from wrong. "Wanda Jean Allen is not mentally retarded," Edmondson said, noting that a psychologist placed her IQ at 80 in the mid-1990s. "Her IQ is 10 points above borderline mental retardation." When a reporter with a foreign accent asked what Allen's IQ might have been when she killed Gloria Leathers in 1988, the attorney general snapped: "She got smarter in prison?"
Allen's last chance for life was erased about 7:30 p.m. Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in her case. A few hours earlier, the same appeal was rejected by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. "Ms. Allen has failed to substantiate her allegation of a due process violation," the Denver judges concluded 3-0, referring to her claim that an assistant attorney general used false evidence against her at her unsuccessful Dec. 15 clemency hearing.
Forty-five minutes after the 10th Circuit's decision, Keating denied a stay of execution. Keating said the courts had pondered the case for 12 years, and that Allen had lodged 11 different appeals since her conviction. "This is not easy because I am dealing with a fellow human being ... with a fellow Oklahoman," the governor said. "I have debated and discussed this, and now have resolved to deny the extension of 30 days. "I care very deeply for the victims of crime. I have no use for killers, but I have a deep and abiding faith in the rule of law. "I have to think about the woman she murdered in cold blood. I grieve for the families; I grieve for the dead. If a person takes another's life premeditated, they take their own." By state law, the governor could not stop the execution, but he could have granted a 30-day stay and had the state Pardon and Parole Board re-examine the issues. Keating said his only question was whether the parole board, which voted 3-1 to deny clemency, had sufficient information to make its decision.
.Based on inaccurate trial testimony by Allen, Assistant Attorney General Sandy Howard told the board Allen had had received a high school diploma and completed 2 years of college. In fact, Allen dropped out of high school. But although Allen's defense attorney knew that information was incorrect, he did not speak up, Keating said. "Clearly, the woman knew right from wrong," Keating said. Oklahoma City black leader Theotis Payne said Keating's decision disappointed him. But Payne said of Keating, "I think he is a fair man. I know from visiting with him he considered all the options, and I have to accept his decision. Now I must prepare myself to stay with the family on this." Jackson met with Keating for nearly 50 minutes this morning after the civil rights leader spent the night in the Oklahoma County jail. Jackson and 27 others were arrested Wednesday night when they trespassed across a line set up in front of the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma City.
24 relatives of murder victim Gloria Leathers and manslaughter victim Detra Pettus traveled to McAlester for the execution. Many of those relatives watched the execution from behind a tinted window. In the room in front of them, a dozen media representatives and 7 witnesses chosen by Allen viewed the execution through clear glass. Allen's witnesses included 3 ministers - the Rev. Vernon Burris, her personal spiritual adviser; the Rev. Walter Little, pastor of Oklahoma City's Redeemer Lutheran Church; and the Rev. Robin Meyers, pastor of Oklahoma City's Mayflower Congregational Church.
Allen becomes the 32nd condemned inmate to be put to death in Oklahoma since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990; only Texas (240), Virginia (81), Florida (51), and Missouri (46) have executed more prisoners than Oklahoma in the modern death penalty era. Allen becomes the 4th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 687th overall since America resumed executions on January 17, 1977.
The Advocate News
"Was justice served? The execution of a lesbian raises tough questions about the death penalty," by David Kirby. (From The Advocate, February 27, 2001)
On the evening of January 11, Wanda Jean Allen was led into the death chamber at the Oklahoma state penitentiary. She was strapped onto a gurney and made a few final remarks. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” she said. “That’s it. Thank you.” A chaplain read aloud from the Bible while Allen smiled at her attorneys and spiritual advisers and playfully stuck her tongue out at them. Moments later she was dead from a lethal injection. Allen was a powerful symbol for death penalty foes everywhere. Poor and, according to her defense team, mentally retarded, Allen was the first woman ever executed in the state and the first African-American woman executed in the United States since 1954; her story had special resonance in the debate among gays and lesbians about the death penalty because Allen was lesbian. She was convicted of shooting to death Gloria Leathers, her lover, in front of a police station in Oklahoma City in 1988. Allen’s fate has contributed to the movement among many gay activists to end capital punishment.
“Wanda Jean Allen was convicted of taking the life of her partner,” says Kevin McGruder, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent. “If we as a society truly believe that taking a person’s life is wrong, then we should not condone the state taking a person’s life.” Activists maintain that Allen faced antigay rhetoric at her trial. They point to such statements as one by the prosecutor in which he said Allen was the one who “wore the pants” in the relationship with Leathers. “Oklahoma is in the Bible Belt; it’s very homophobic,” says Tonya McClary, program director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “Racist terms definitely come up in courtrooms and jury rooms, and so do homophobic terms.”
The debate over the death penalty came to the fore after the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Shepard’s killers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, faced a death sentence. A group of gay organizations issued a statement condemning the death penalty in that case and all other cases on the grounds that it was antithetical to the values of the gay movement. “An act of state-sanctioned violence in the form of the death penalty is no more or less violent than the barbaric acts of attackers,” says Richard Haymes, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
Allen’s case has raised a new set of issues, including the question of whether the judicial system is inherently fair to gay and lesbian defendants. Many activists and legal experts fear that gays, like other minorities, suffer bias in the American justice system. “Courts are as imperfect as the people who occupy their jury rooms, counsel tables, and judicial benches,” says Jon Davidson, senior counsel for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Much of our litigation seeks to correct errors and overturn unjust outcomes that result from personal and societal biases, all too frequently not left outside the courtroom door.” Lambda was joined in its opposition to Allen’s execution by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay Men of African Descent, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, among others. There have been no definitive studies of gays on death row, though some cases suggest Allen wasn’t alone in suffering antigay bias. “There appears to be a disproportionate number of lesbians and gay men on death row in the United States,” says Lambda’s Davidson. One 1997 study, titled “Gay Men, Lesbians, and the Law,” concluded that approximately 40% of women on death row were identified as lesbians.
Death penalty opponents say discrimination often plays a role in capital cases. They cite a 1998 study that said African-American defendants were 3.9 times as likely to be sentenced to death as white defendants. Activists argue that gays and lesbians may face a similar bias in sentencing. McClary, like others who protested Allen’s death sentence—including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was arrested outside the Oklahoma state penitentiary the night before her execution—says the prosecutor drove home the point that Allen and Leathers were a lesbian couple. (Allen, who had an IQ of 80, said she acted in self-defense.)
“The prosecutor was very meticulous in trying to solicit from his witnesses this stereotype about lesbians,” says McClary. “He tried to solicit that Wanda was the man, that she dominated Gloria, that she ran the household. Homophobia definitely played a big part in her case.” Many of Allen’s supporters believe she ended up on death row precisely because of her sexual orientation, even though she had a previous conviction for manslaughter. (In fact, Allen and Leathers met in prison.)
“If Wanda had been dating a man, would she be on death row? I don’t think she would have,” says McClary. “Even one of the judges who reviewed her case said, ‘I don’t understand why this is a capital case. It’s really more a crime of passion, more like manslaughter.’ ” Another capital case involves Calvin Burdine, a gay man sentenced to die in Texas. Burdine was convicted of stabbing his lover to death with the help of a teenage accomplice. At his trial, Burdine’s lawyer, Joe Cannon, was sleeping while the defendant was peppered with irrelevant questions about the sexual positions he preferred. At sentencing, the prosecutor argued for death, saying that life in prison “certainly isn’t a very bad punishment for a homosexual.” Burdine’s lawyer, who made antigay remarks and did not try to eject openly homophobic jurors, made no objections to the prosecutor’s comments. Last year a federal court upheld the conviction because there was no proof that the attorney, who has since died, slept during important parts of the trial. Appeals were heard in the case on January 22.
It’s precisely this kind of courtroom conduct that puts fear into the hearts of gay civil rights activists, who say bias extends well beyond capital cases. Michael Heflin, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender program of Amnesty International, says one study showed that jurors are more likely to convict someone who is gay or lesbian. “It’s a legal tactic for some prosecutors to exploit a person’s sexual orientation in the hopes of swaying a jury,” he says.
Heflin believes all lesbians and gays should oppose the death penalty “given the amount of discrimination we still face.” He’d like to see a nationwide study of antigay bias in the courtroom, especially in capital cases, adding that it might be time to mobilize gay groups around the issue. “Especially now, after the Matthew Shepard case and now Wanda Jean Allen, I think we have galvanized support for doing something to fight against these terrible injustices.”
Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund
"Lambda Urges Stay of Execution for African-American Lesbian; Wanda Jean Allen's Case Illustrates Inequities of Capital Punishment"
(NEW YORK, January 10, 2001) — Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund on Wednesday called on Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating to stay the execution of Wanda Jean Allen, an African-American lesbian and one of several gay inmates on death row despite improprieties during their trials, including anti-gay bias.
"We can't call our society civilized if we put people to death after unfair trials. In Wanda Jean’s case, and in the cases of Calvin Burdine and Gregory Dickens, anti-gay bias and many other departures from due process scream out that justice has not been done," said Lambda Legal Director Ruth E. Harlow, referring to two other death penalty cases involving gay litigants. Unless Gov. Keating postpones Allen's execution, she will become the first woman to be put to death by the state of Oklahoma in nearly 98 years. Her execution date is set for January 11. During Allen’s trial for the 1989 murder of her partner, the prosecutor invoked stereotypes of lesbians. Her lawyer, who had never tried a capital case before, was paid only $800, and had neither co-counsel nor resources for investigators and expert witnesses. Years after the trial, it was learned that Allen’s IQ is only 80, and that she suffered severe mental illness and retardation due to several head traumas.
Harlow noted that the troubling aspects of Allen’s case mirror those of other people on death row, many of whom are people of color, are mentally disabled, or lacked the means to mount an adequate legal defense. Harlow also said that the prosecutor’s use of homophobia during the trial reflected the bias that many gay litigants, criminal or civil, still face in court. Two other death penalty cases on Lambda’s docket involve similar misconduct. In one of those cases, Dickens v. Arizona, Lambda is supporting an appeal by a gay man on death row trying to obtain a new, unbiased trial. It has recently come to light that the judge who presided over Gregory Scott Dickens’ trial and personally sentenced him to death was at the same time writing vitriolic hate letters to his own gay son, saying among other things, “I hope you die in prison like all the rest of your faggot friends.”
Lambda also has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Calvin Burdine, a gay man whose lawyer slept through much of his murder trial. The prosecutor in his case urged the jury to sentence him to death, portraying Burdine as a danger to the community based on a 1971 conviction for consensual sodomy, and suggesting that, for a gay man, being incarcerated with other men would be enjoyable.
Said Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart, “Lambda deals daily with the legal system’s fallibility and the effects of bias on court decisions. With this experience, we oppose the death penalty as a harsh and irreversible use of government power.” Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest gay legal organization. Founded in 1973, Lambda is headquartered in New York and has regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Canadian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (Allen Homepage)
"Scheduled Execution of Wanda Jean Allen Who is Mentally Impaired Prompts National Call to Action"
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) today announced the formation of a united front of concerned organizations working to halt the execution of Wanda Jean Allen, one of nine prisonersslated for death in the state of Oklahoma in the first four weeks of 2001. Unless Oklahoma authorities intervene, Ms. Allen will become the first woman executed in the state in nearly a century and the first African American woman to be put to death in the United States during the modern era.
"The case of Wanda Jean Allen is a tragic example of the glaring flaws in the Oklahoma death penalty process", NCADP director Steve Hawkins said. "At a time of mounting questions about the fairness and reliability of the death penalty nationwide, Oklahoma is embarking on an unprecedented and intolerable killing spree," Mr. Hawkins added. Organizations that have joined the call include: Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, American Friends Service Committee, Equal Justice/USA, Amnesty International, ACLU, Faithworks Worldwide, Clergy Coalition to End Executions, The National Gay andLesbian Task Force, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Youth Advocacy Coalition, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Oklahoma Lambda Intercollegiate Coalition and the University of Oklahoma Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Friends. "Anyone who doubts that the death penalty is administered unjustly should take a close look at Wanda Jean Allen's case," said Michael Adams,Associate Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "We've had a number of cases where people's sexual orientation has been a factor in sentencing them to die -- including people who are now on death row in Texas and Missouri."
Case background: Wanda Jean Allen is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma on January 11, 2001. She was sentenced to death in 1989 for killing her lover, Gloria Leathers in Oklahoma City in 1988. Her clemency hearing before the state Pardon and Parole Board is due to take place on December 15th. During her time on death row, she has reportedly become a devout Christian. She recently met with the mother of her victim, who forgave her for the offense. The two women, who had met in prison, had been in a tumultuous relationship for two years. Each had called the police to their home on more than one occasion after a domestic dispute. On the afternoon of December 1, 1988, the couple got into an argument at a local grocery store. The argument continued at their home and culminated outside a police station. Allen maintained she had acted in self-defense, claiming that Leathers had struck her in the face with a hand rake during the confrontation at the house, and that outside the police station Leathers had again come at her with the rake. Allen shot Leathers, who died four days later on December 5, 1988. The wounds to Allen's face from the rake were still visible on December 6, when she was photographed in jail.
Wanda's trial attorney was forced to represent her for a total of $800. Allen's family approached Bob Carpenter to handle the case. Believing that it was not a capital case he agreed to represent Wanda for $5,000. The family made an initial payment of $800. The State then charged Wanda with first-degree murder and announced it would seek the death penalty. Mr. Carpenter who had never tried a capital murder case asked the judge to allow him to withdraw when he learned that the family could not pay the $4,200 balance that would have allowed him to have the resources to pay for an investigator, experts, etc. He offered to act as co-counsel for free if a public defender was appointed as lead counsel. The prosecution opposed his motion and the court refused to allow him to withdraw.
No evidence of Wanda's mental impairments was presented during her trial. In a 1991 affidavit, Bob Carpenter stated that it was not until after the trial that he learned when Wanda was 15 years-old her IQ had been measured at 69 and that the doctor who examined her had recommended a neurological assessment because she manifested symptoms of brain damage. Carpenter stated, "I did not search for any medical or psychological records or seek expert assistance" for use at the trial.
A psychologist conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Wanda in 1995 and found "clear and convincing evidence of cognitive and sensory-motor deficits and brain dysfunction" possibly linked to an adolescent head injury. At the age of 12, Allen had been hit by a truck and knocked unconscious, and at 14 or 15 she had been stabbed in the left temple. He found "particularly significant hemisphere dysfunction" impairing "her comprehension, her ability to logically express herself, her ability to analyze cause and effect relationships." He also concluded that Allen was "more chronically vulnerable than others to becoming disorganized by everyday stresses-- and thus more vulnerable to a loss of control under stress." Wanda's sexual orientation was exploited during her trial. One of the prosecutor's main tactics during the trial was to rely on negative stereotypes of lesbians and convince the jury that Wanda Jean was dominant and intimidated Leathers. Prosecutors in other capital cases have frequently used this method to criminalize lesbians and portray them as man-hating, overly aggressive, and capable of committing murder. This sort of bias portrays lesbians as more dangerous than a heterosexual woman accused of the same crime.
"It didn't make either of us less human than if we were in a heterosexual relationship, a bisexual relationship. We are still human. We have emotions. We laugh. We cry. It was part of our life," Wanda stated in reference to her sexual orientation.
Amnesty International Execution Alert 17 November 2000
Wanda Jean Allen is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma on 11 January 2001. She was sentenced to death in 1989 for killing her lover, Gloria Leathers, in Oklahoma City in 1988. Her clemency hearing before the state Pardon and Parole Board is due to take place on 15 December.
The two women, who had met in prison, had a turbulent relationship; each had called the police to their home on more than one occasion after a domestic dispute. Gloria Leathers? death followed a protracted argument between the couple which began at a local shop, continued at their home, and culminated outside a police station. Allen maintained she had acted in self-defence, claiming that Leathers had struck her in the face with a hand rake during the confrontation at the house, and that outside the police station Leathers had again come at her with the rake. Allen shot Leathers, who died four days later on 5 December 1988. The wound to Allen?s face from the rake was still visible on 6 December, when she was photographed in jail.
Allen's family approached a lawyer known to them. Believing that this was not a capital case, he agreed to take it for a fee of $5,000. The family made an initial payment of $800. The state then charged Wanda Jean Allen with first-degree murder and announced that it would seek the death penalty. The lawyer asked the judge to allow him to withdraw from the case on the grounds that he did not have the resources to represent a capital defendant. He had learned that the family was unable to pay for an investigator or any other expert to aid in the defence, and that they could not pay him the remaining $4,200 either. He offered to act as co-counsel, for free, if a public defender was appointed as lead counsel. The prosecution opposed the lawyer?s motion, and the court refused to allow him to withdraw. He was therefore forced to defend Wanda Jean Allen on a total payment of $800, with no co-counsel, no investigator and no resources to hire expert witnesses. Furthermore, this was his first capital case.
Evidence that Leathers had a history of violent conduct, and that she had stabbed a woman to death in Tulsa in 1979, was central to the self-defence argument at Allen's trial. Allen testified that she feared Leathers because she had boasted to her about the killing. The defence sought to corroborate this claim with testimony from Leathers' mother, whom Leathers had told about the stabbing. However, the prosecution objected, and the court prohibited the introduction of any such testimony. Although the state knew about the Tulsa stabbing, the prosecutor told the jury. Regardless of how many times [the defence] tells you that Gloria Leathers... killed someone... that?s just from the defendant's mouth alone that you heard that testimony. Please remember that, from the defendant's mouth alone that you heard that testimony.? The prosecutor had already depicted Allen as a remorseless liar. For example, noting that Allen had cried throughout the trial, the prosecutor suggested to the jury that her crying was insincere and a further sign that she was lying. In a 1991 affidavit, the defence lawyer stated that after the trial he had learned that when Allen was 15 years old, her IQ had been measured at 69, and that the doctor who examined her had recommended a neurological assessment because she manifested symptoms of brain damage. The lawyer stated I did not search for any medical or psychological records or seek expert assistance? for use at the trial.
A psychologist conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Wanda Jean Allen in 1995 and found clear and convincing evidence of cognitive and sensori-motor deficits and brain dysfunction possibly linked to an adolescent head injury. At the age of 12, Allen had been hit by a truck and knocked unconscious, and at 14 or 15 she had been stabbed in the left temple. He found that Allen?s intellectual abilities are markedly impaired?, and that her IQ was 80. He found particularly significant left hemisphere dysfunction?, impairing her comprehension, her ability to logically express herself, her ability to analyse cause and effect relationships... He also concluded that Allen was ?more chronically vulnerable than others to becoming disorganized by everyday stresses - and thus more vulnerable to a loss of control under stress.
Since the USA resumed executions in 1977, 677 prisoners have been put to death, including five women: Velma Barfield (North Carolina, 1984); Karla Faye Tucker (Texas, 1998); Judy Buenoano (Florida, 1998), Betty Lou Beets (Texas, 2000) and Christina Riggs (Arkansas, 2000). The last African American woman put to death in the USA was reportedly Betty Butler in Ohio in 1954. The last woman to be executed in Oklahoma was Dora Wright in 1903. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on October 4 selected January 11, 2001 as the date for execution by lethal injection of Wanda Jean Allen, now 41, convicted in 1989 of killing her lover Gloria Jean Leathers, 29. The 2 met in prison where Allen was serving time for a manslaughter conviction for killing her previous lover Detra Pettus. Allen will be the 1st woman to be executed in Oklahoma since it became a state. Only 5 women have been executed in the U.S. since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. According to Ohio Northern University law professor Victor Streib, there have been only 41 documented executions of women worldwide out of 7,729 since 1900.
Leathers and Allen had numerous altercations during the years they lived together in Oklahoma City, with several police reports filed. On December 1, 1988 they had another at a grocery store, believed to be over money, and Leathers determined to leave their shared home. Leathers went to the house with her mother and a police escort to collect her belongings, but the police officer was called away. Leathers headed for the police station, but Allen followed and shot her through the side as she got out of her car. Leathers' mother said Leathers had intended to file a complaint against Allen for stealing some clothes, and that before firing the gun Allen had said, "If I can't have you, nobody can." Allen fled the scene but was arrested December 5, 1988 in Duncan, Oklahoma; Leathers died of the gunshot wound that same day.
Allen's April 1989 trial progressed quickly. A police officer was among the witnesses, and police reported that Leathers identified Allen as the shooter before she died. Allen claimed she acted in self-defense but no witness confirmed any attack by Leathers. Helping to convict Allen of first-degree murder instead of manslaughter was a letter she'd written to Leathers saying, "You're not only in my prayers, you're also in most of my confessions. You're everything I ever wanted. I'm very happy with your love. You're my everything. P.S. I'm the type of person who will hunt someone down I love and kill them. Do I make myself clear, Gloria?" The prosecution also likened the Leathers shooting to that of Pettus in 1981. Allen shot Pettus in a grocery store parking lot in connection with an argument. Prosecutors said that in both cases Allen had concealed a firearm under her clothing and then said she didn't know how it went off. It was while serving time for Pettus' death that Allen met Leathers in 1982. Allen was paroled after four years and was still subject to the terms of parole when she shot Leathers.
One of the prosecutors in the Leathers case remains convinced that Allen would have killed any future lovers who angered her. Steve Presson, one of two attorneys handling Allen's appeal, told the Tulsa World that, "We thought that this was a horrendous constitutional violation in the denial of effective counsel for her. In this case, the state district court forced her to be represented by an attorney not being paid and then forced the attorney to trial without giving him the tools -- no experts, doctors or investigators. No one discovered she was borderline mentally retarded until the trial and appeals were over. By that time, it is too late." No appeals court agreed, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review a unanimous decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Presson will seek a hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board.
In a profile for the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Allen described herself as a family person, with interests in reading, art and jazz, who likes to play tennis, golf and basketball. She identifies as a Baptist.
ACLU Letter to Pardon Board
Pardon & Parole Board
4040 North Lincoln
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Re: Wanda Jean Allen
Dear Board Member:
On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, we urge you to grant clemency to Wanda Jean Allen. She is scheduled to be executed on January 11, 2001. It is clear that a stunning combination of factors in her case merit the relief that is sought.
--Wanda Jean Allen has severe mental disabilities that have gone untreated and which bear directly on the question of whether the death penalty is the appropriate punishment in this case. As a young child she suffered serious head trauma that may have compounded a family history of mental impairment. She was placed in foster care and ultimately in a state juvenile facility as an adolescent. When she was 16 years old, a psychological evaluation revealed serious mental disabilities including mental retardation and a "marked inability to cope with a variety of complex situations." The psychologist recommended protective control and training-which Wanda Jean Allen never received.
--Although the state knew of Wanda Jean Allen's mental incapacity, it was never revealed in court proceedings-even to her attorney. While the State of Oklahoma knew that Wanda Jean Allen probably had brain damage, neurological deficiencies, was mentally retarded, and needed treatment, neither her defending attorney nor the jury was made aware of this psychologist's report.
--Largely as a result of her financial status, Wanda Jean Allen's legal representation was alarmingly inadequate. Her lawyer, a solo practitioner, agreed to represent her because he thought it would be a case of manslaughter. He had never tried a capital case and did not know how to fully prepare for defending a capital trial. The Court refused to allow him to withdraw, refused him the assistance of the public defender's office, and refused to provide funding for an investigator to help him prepare for the trial. The State's denial of adequate resources was clearly the pivotal reason that evidence concerning Wanda Jean Allen's mental disability was never presented to a jury. Had that evidence been presented Wanda Jean Allen might not have been sentenced to death.
Moreover, there are indications that race and sexual orientation may have been factors in Wanda Jean Allen's sentencing. She was convicted of killing her girlfriend, after a trial permeated with stereotypes of lesbians and African American women. By the time the jury determined her sentence, they had heard repeated references to Wanda Jean Allen as an aggressive, dominant, "male" type figure who would therefore be capable of committing murder. Oklahoma's health system failed when Wanda Jean Allen's serious mental problems went untreated. The state's criminal justice system failed when she was forced to receive inadequate representation, and when bias based on race, class and sexual orientation entered the courtroom. Oklahoma's "safety net" did not just fail Wanda Jean Allen-it failed the whole state.
The ACLU opposes capital punishment in all cases as a barbarous anachronism and a violation of the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Our country is almost alone among advanced nations continuing the practice. Indeed, the American Bar Association has urged a moratorium on executions, citing, among other issues precisely the kind of unfairness and irrationality presented by the planned execution of Wanda Jean Allen. We respectfully urge you to grant clemency in this tragic case.
ACLU Capital Punishment Project
ACLU of Oklahoma
Director, Lesbian and Gay Rights Project
"Wanda Jean Allen Put to Death"
McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Victims' family members said the execution of convicted killer Wanda Jean Allen brought them closure as they decried protesters who fought the nation's first execution of a black woman since 1954. Allen, 41, raised her head and smiled, and a tear appeared in the corner of her eye before she received a lethal dose of drugs Thursday night at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. ''Father forgive them,'' she said, echoing Christ's words as he was crucified. ''They know not what they do.'' She was condemned for killing her lesbian lover, Gloria Leathers, whom she met in prison. She served two years for fatally shooting childhood friend Dedra Pettus in 1981. "We're the victims, not Wanda Jean," said Leathers' daughter, LaToya Leathers. "We are the victims and justice has been served."
In the days before her death, Allen served as the rallying point for death penalty foes, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was arrested along with two dozen other demonstrators Wednesday. Gov. Frank Keating refused Allen's late request for a 30-day stay, and last-minute rejections by appeals courts cleared the way for the death sentence. ''This is not easy because I'm dealing with a fellow human being,'' said Keating, an ardent death penalty supporter. ''This is not easy because I'm dealing with a fellow Oklahoman.''
Outside the prison gates, death penalty supporters and opponents gathered in clusters, talking in low voices and shivering in the cold. Ann Scott, whose daughter Elaine Marie Scott was killed in 1991, said she resented Jackson coming to Oklahoma to try to stop the execution. ''I highly resent his being here and teaching Oklahomans civil disobedience,'' she said. ''I think the system works.''
Ajamu Baraka, acting director of Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Oklahoma had no business executing Allen. ''Any state that exercises this ultimate punishment against a person who is mentally impaired is acting not only immorally, but also irrationally and illegally,'' Baraka said.
Before Thursday, 44 women had been executed in the United States since 1900. The last execution of a black woman came in 1954, when Ohio electrocuted Betty Jean Butler. The most recent woman to die was Christina Marie Riggs, 28, executed in Arkansas last May for smothering her two young children.
Keating considered giving Allen a stay based on the narrow issue of whether the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had enough information regarding her education. Allen's attorneys have pointed to her score, a 69, on an IQ test she took in the 1970s, arguing she is in the range of mental retardation. Prosecutors said Allen testified during the penalty phase of her trial that she had graduated from high school and received a medical assistant certificate from a college. But they said Allen dropped out of high school at 16 and never finished course work in the medical assistant program.
The execution was the second of eight planned in Oklahoma over the next four weeks.
United Church News
"Killing Wanda Jean," by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers. (January-February 2001)
Dr. Robin Meyers argued a petition for clemency for Wanda Jean Allen on Friday, Dec.15, 2000, at 1 p.m. at the Lexington Penitentiary in Lexington, Okla. The following is the sermon Meyers delivered to his congregation on Dec.10, 2000.
When I say from this pulpit, as I often have, that the only thing anyone knows for certain, is that not a single one of us knows anything for certain, I am speaking from experience—and that's what makes for real preaching. If the maxim in writing is to "write what you know," then it should be true of preaching as well—it ought to be about the world as it really is, not just about the world as we hope it might be someday.
Months ago, the phone rang, and the voice on the other end of the line extended an invitation to me that has changed my life in ways I would never have expected, and put me at the center of something bigger than all of us put together. The voice belonged to Steve Presson, whose Norman, Okla., law firm, Jackson and Presson, handles many of Oklahoma's death row cases. He is, I was soon to learn, a regular listener to the weekly Mayflower Congregational UCC radio program—and as a result of listening to those sermons on the radio, had decided to approach the clemency process for a pending execution in a completely new way. We decided to meet at my favorite, funky little coffee house, The Red Cup, and when we pulled up our chairs, stirred in our steaming cups of Java, and started talking, I quickly realized I was about to take the first step down the road less traveled—and as Robert Frost said in that magnificent poem, it really does make all the difference—because once the first step is taken, there is no turning back.
What Mr. Presson explained to me was, that in his years of defending death-row inmates, nothing had ever convinced a pardon and parole board to grant clemency, even though in Oklahoma we have the option to commute sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He said there have been the usual approaches to clemency hearings—weeping relatives, emotional expressions of remorse, pleas for forgiveness and whatever other evidence could be presented which sought to show that the offender was short-changed in the legal process, which so often happens in our criminal justice system these days because it is certifiably broken. But nothing works.
Of the five members of Oklahoma's pardon and parole board, three were appointed by Governor Frank Keating who, together with [then] Texas Governor George W. Bush, is the most pro-death penalty governor in America. A Roman Catholic, Keating's pro-death penalty statements are in direct conflict which his church's official teaching. But this has not deterred him from making public statements, including his belief that the death penalty actually upholds the sacredness of human life, and the Pope himself, while an admirable man, is simply mistaken when it comes to the death penalty.
And so Oklahoma, which seems to me to be in a kind of undeclared race with Texas to see who can kill the most people as a way of proving how wrong it is to kill people, has proven to be an almost hopeless place for death row inmates. And Mr. Presson said that he and his legal team had decided to try something that had never been tried before: to ask a minister to make an appeal for clemency based not just on legal issues, but on moral and ethical ones as well. "I have come to believe," Mr. Presson explained, "that lawyers do not have the moral authority to make the kind of arguments that often need to be made in death penalty cases. That takes someone who knows the Bible and is able to offer a second opinion when it comes to the prevailing religious assumptions of this state, which is that God is in favor of what we are doing—after all, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'—take a life, forfeit your life." But then, of course, we know that it really doesn't work that way. You can kill people these days, sometimes a whole bunch of people, and if you have the right defense, the right skin color, the right connections, you will not get the death penalty. There are no rich people on death row. And if you are O.J. Simpson, of course, you can get away with murder, because you can afford the Dream Team.
Not so with Wanda Jean Allen, who shot and killed her lesbian lover, Gloria Leathers, in front of the Village Police Department 12 years ago, after an extended argument escalated into a tragedy. Exactly what happened that day we'll never know for sure, but this much is certain—the crucial element of pre-meditation, which Oklahoma law requires for the death penalty, was alleged, but could never be proved. It was a crime of passion and, paradoxically, we know that it is easier to kill someone we love, especially when we are about to lose them, than it is to kill a stranger.
Nevertheless, Wanda Jean had indeed done the killing and confessed to the crime. And because she had met Gloria Leathers in prison, where she was serving time on a previous manslaughter conviction, she was viewed as a woman who could not control her violent impulses and could not function in society. Prison, it seemed, was where Wanda Jean Allen would have to spend the rest of her life.
She secured an attorney, and he agreed to take the fee for what he assumed would be a second manslaughter charge, $5,000. But the family had almost nothing to pay him and scraped together $800—agreeing to take a second mortgage on the house to pay the rest. At the pre-trial hearing, the attorney was shocked to learn that the prosecution would seek the death penalty, and because he had never tried a capital case and felt unqualified to do so, begged the judge to be released from the case. The judge refused. He asked the judge to provide a public defender for Wanda Jean, and he would agree to act as counsel for no additional fee. The judge refused. No investigator was provided. Critical evidence about her mental condition (she has an IQ of 69, which borders on mental retardation) was never introduced at the trial—and so, for $800, and with the help of an attorney who didn't want the case and wasn't qualified to try it, Wanda Jean Allen was given the death sentence.
The prosecution characterized Wanda Jean Allen as a monster who hunted down and killed her victims, and because of her sexual orientation, referred to her repeatedly as the "man" in the relationship. Come to think of it, given what I know about homophobia in this state, many people may not even consider that we are about to execute the first woman ever in Oklahoma—because they really think of her as a man.
As for being a monster, I can tell you, after having spent hours with Wanda Jean, there is absolutely nothing monstrous about her. To the contrary, she has become a deeply religious woman—and not at the last moment, either—not as a last-minute, born-again strategy in hopes of gaining some religious advantage, but as a person who is demonstrably religious. The first time I ever visited Wanda Jean, we all walked into a room together, and she said, "Let's begin with prayer." Well, I'm used to that, so I was all set to begin, and suddenly, it was Wanda Jean who started praying! Now, I get handwritten notes in the mail from Wanda Jean about once a week, telling me what scriptures to read so I will not be discouraged. "Don't you worry," she said to me recently. "This is all in God's hands now, and we are all being used for a greater purpose. We can't only trust in ourselves, but we have to give it all over to Him." Sometimes I'm not sure who the minister is, and who is being ministered unto. What's more, she has been a model prisoner at Mabel Bassett, and is one of the most popular inmates ever incarcerated there. She often leads other inmates in worship, quotes more scripture than most church folk even know, and found out recently just how much she means to the rest of the prison population there.
When her final appeal was denied, over 200 inmates circled her lock-down unit, her "condo" as she calls it, and sang and prayed for her. All of them signed a letter asking that she not be executed, because she has become someone who means something to them, who is doing what good she can—despite the fact she is in lock-down 23 hours a day. Her execution date is scheduled for Thursday, January 11, by lethal injection at McAlester. If she is not granted clemency [this coming Friday], I will accompany her to the death house, spend her last hours with her, and then witness her execution. And although I have seen many people die in my ministry, I have never seen anyone killed—in this case a strong, handsome, 41-year-old woman who will be given a final meal, strapped down to a large metal gurney, and injected with poison.
The state of Oklahoma is killing her for you, and for me—the citizens and taxpayers of Oklahoma. They do it assuming that most of us want this, and sadly, the majority of Oklahomans still do. But what politicians don't realize is that Americans are in the midst of rethinking the death penalty, and even changing their minds about it—but the people in power don't have the message yet.
What's more, this national queasiness cuts across traditional, political and even religious traditions. Republican governor George H. Ryan of Ill., called for a moratorium on the death penalty, citing a corrupt, even inept, criminal justice system. And more remarkable yet, Pat Robertson has publicly shared his misgivings about the death penalty—claiming that Christians ought to be more about mercy than about vengeance.
I don't know if people even understand how remarkable that is, and I can only attribute the silence and lack of publicity about his remarks to the fact that this prominent leader of the Religious Right was not saying what his people wanted to hear—which by the way, means that for the first time in his life, he may have been preaching the gospel! Because the truth is, we don't want to hear it. We would much prefer to stay with the God of vengeance and wrath when it comes to the death penalty—the God whom, it was assumed, had authorized the death penalty for 38 offenses in the Old Testament, from adultery (which nobody seems anxious to bring back as a capital offense), to a woman who married but wasn't a virgin (she could be stoned to death), to a young boy who talked back to his father (he could be executed also—talk about tough love).
What I will be trying to do at the state penitentiary in Lexington is ask that the pardon and parole board members, all of whom are Christians, consider the New Testament for a change. Especially the passage in the Sermon on the Mount, the most important sermon ever preached in the history of the world, the Constitution of the Christian faith, where Jesus directly cites the "eye for an eye" passage for reinterpretation.
"You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (past tense...that is the old way), but I say to you (present tense...this is the new way, the New Covenant), if a man strikes you on one cheek, turn also to him the other...pray for your enemies...never return evil for evil." When you come right down to it, clemency is about forgiveness, and forgiveness is the hardest lesson of the faith. It's easy to talk about, but almost impossible to practice. And how many times are we commanded to forgive? Seven times? No, 70 times seven, which as Wanda Jean herself has pointed out to me on a number of occasions, is 490 times.
When Cain kills his brother Abel, in the Bible's very first homicide, God is said to have put a mark on Cain and sent him wandering. To this day, death-row inmates are said to have the "mark of Cain," as if this was a mark of disgrace, of shame, as if they have been marked by God for death. But the mark of Cain was a mark of protection, put there by God so Cain "would not also be killed." One dead brother was enough. But perhaps most telling of all is the story of the woman caught in adultery, who was about to be stoned to death. She had been caught, there was no presumption of innocence, and she was about to be killed as the law allowed. We tend to remember it as a story about hypocrisy, "Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone," but we forget it also is about Jesus stopping an execution. He sent home those who were suddenly ashamed to presume to take a human life, especially one with whom they could never truly identify, and then he said to the offender, "Go and sin no more."
One of the most remarkable facts of this case is that the mother of Gloria Leather, the victim's mother, Ruby Wilson, has forgiven Wanda Jean, and has told me she is not in favor of the death penalty. Given this remarkable fact, I plan to ask the pardon and parole board , "If you are not killing Wanda Jean for the mother of her victim, then who are you killing her for?" What's more, if the mother of the victim can forgive someone else's child for taking the life of her own child, then why can't the rest of us?
Why do we, under these circumstances, go ahead and play God? What gives us the right? And if life is really precious (and I sincerely believe that religious people everywhere can agree on this fact—that it is indeed precious), then how has the life of someone who made a terrible mistake suddenly lost that designation? If you ask someone, especially someone who calls themselves pro-life, "How do you know the life of the unborn is precious?" they will always say, "God has deemed it so—God gives all life, and calls it good, and asks that we protect more and more of it." Then I am very confused. Because if we don't do the designating, how can we do the revoking? If we don't bestow preciousness then how can we presume to take it back in the barbaric act of execution? I know, I know—the unborn life is innocence (but then of course, it can't make any mistakes before it's born)—and so either all life is precious because God decides it is, or we pick and choose—when, and under which circumstances life is precious—and that sounds like idolatry to me.
I don't know why this is happening, or why I have been given such a remarkable opportunity to practice what I preach, but I have asked for your prayers, and I need them. I have asked you to write to the attorney general, the governor, and I hope you will. I have invited everyone within reach of my voice, and that includes everyone who listens to me on the radio, to come to Lexington on Friday, Dec. 15, at 1 p.m. for the hearing, and to know that the building only holds 150 people—but don't let that stop you.
The truth is, we keep killing more and more people, and it's becoming easier and easier. Once we wouldn't think of killing someone who committed their crime as a juvenile, but we're past that now. Once we wouldn't think of killing someone who was mentally retarded, but we're past that now. And here we are, ready to kill our first woman, and yet we say, "Women and children into the lifeboats first." Why? So we can get past this, too?
What has become of us? What are we going to have to do to stop this madness? If it's a long, long journey, then of course it must begin with a single step. That first step is now before us. The most important question anyone of us who claims the Christian faith can ask about the death penalty is this: What Would Jesus Do? If that's going to be anything more than a slogan on a T-shirt (WWJD), then we are going to quit asking the question rhetorically, and ask it like we mean it—because we do—don't we? If Jesus just happens to show up at Lexington next Friday—and whatever you do, don't rule out that possibility—then what do you think He would do? Tell us to go ahead and kill Wanda Jean? Or would He walk over, put one arm around Ruby Wilson, Gloria's mother, and weep with her over the loss of her child...and then put the other arm around Wanda Jean Allen and say, "Go and sin no more"?
You know the answer...and so do the pardon and parole board members, if it will but listen to its heart for once—for the heart is a better teacher than the head. Next Friday, I invite every able-bodied person who is so moved to come to the state penitentiary in Lexington, Okla., where they will begin to "process in" as they call it, a crowd that is going to be much larger than they can possibly imagine. People are coming here from all over the country. Sister Helen Prejean is coming.
If you do not get in and have to stand outside the prison gate, there will be many people there to keep you company. It might just take you back to a by-gone day, before we made state-sponsored killing legal again—a day when we had a saying that went like this: What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Only this time, we will march under the banner of the Lord—the one who stops executions in progress. And our motto will be: What if they gave another execution, assuming nobody would notice...and everybody came? We'll see.
"Wanda Jean Allen Becomes First Black Woman Executed in United States Since 1954," by Rochelle Hines.
McAlester, Okla. (AP)- Victims' family members said the execution of convicted killer Wanda Jean Allen brought them closure as they decried protesters who fought the nation's first execution of a black woman since 1954. Allen, 41, raised her head and smiled, and a tear appeared in the corner of her eye before she received a lethal dose of drugs Thursday night at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. "Father forgive them," she said, echoing Christ's words as he was crucified. "They know not what they do."
She was condemned for killing her lesbian lover, Gloria Leathers, whom she met in prison. She served two years for fatally shooting childhood friend Dedra Pettus in 1981. "We're the victims, not Wanda Jean," said Leathers' daughter, LaToya Leathers. "We are the victims and justice has been served." In the days before her death, Allen served as the rallying point for death penalty foes, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was arrested along with two dozen other demonstrators Wednesday.
Gov. Frank Keating refused Allen's late request for a 30-day stay, and last-minute rejections by appeals courts cleared the way for the death sentence. "This is not easy because I'm dealing with a fellow human being," said Keating, an ardent death penalty supporter. "This is not easy because I'm dealing with a fellow Oklahoman." Outside the prison gates, death penalty supporters and opponents gathered in clusters, talking in low voices and shivering in the cold.
Ann Scott, whose daughter Elaine Marie Scott was killed in 1991, said she resented Jackson coming to Oklahoma to try to stop the execution. "I highly resent his being here and teaching Oklahomans civil disobedience," she said. "I think the system works."
Ajamu Baraka, acting director of Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Oklahoma had no business executing Allen. "Any state that exercises this ultimate punishment against a person who is mentally impaired is acting not only immorally, but also irrationally and illegally," Baraka said. Before Thursday, 44 women had been executed in the United States since 1900. The last execution of a black woman came in 1954, when Ohio electrocuted Betty Jean Butler. The most recent woman to die was Christina Marie Riggs, 28, executed in Arkansas last May for smothering her two young children.
Keating considered giving Allen a stay based on the narrow issue of whether the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had enough information regarding her education. Allen's attorneys have pointed to her score, a 69, on an IQ test she took in the 1970s, arguing she is in the range of mental retardation. Prosecutors said Allen testified during the penalty phase of her trial that she had graduated from high school and received a medical assistant certificate from a college. But they said Allen dropped out of high school at 16 and never finished course work in the medical assistant program.
The execution was the second of eight planned in Oklahoma over the next four weeks.