Jerald Wayne Harjo

Executed July 17, 2001 by Lethal Injection in Oklahoma

42nd murderer executed in U.S. in 2001
725th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
14th murderer executed in Oklahoma in 2001
44th murderer executed in Oklahoma since 1976

Since 1976
Date of Execution
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
Date of
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Date of
Method of
to Murderer
Date of
Lethal Injection
Jerald Wayne Harjo

NA / M / 26 - 40

Ruth Porter

W / F / 64


On January 16, 1988, Harjo broke into the home of 64-year-old grandmother Ruth Porter in rural Seminole County. Harjo broke into Ruth's home to try to find the keys to her van and strangled her in her bed. Investigators believe he also raped her. Ruth's daughter found the body of the elementary school secretary the next morning. In a confession to police, Harjo said that when Ruth Porter awoke, he put a pillowcase over her face and strangled her with his hands. Porter's car was found at the home of Harjo's brother, and a bicycle ridden by Harjo to the scene was found nearby in a ditch. At the time, Haro was on a suspended sentence for car theft, and had a prior prison commitment for Burglary.


Internet Sources:

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

McAlester News-Capital & Democrat

"Killer to Die at OSP," by Doug Russell. (Latimer County Bureau July 14, 2001)

Teachers and staff who worked at Sasakwa Schools remember Jan. 16, 1988, very well. But they remember the 18th - a Monday - even better. That was the day they took time out of their busy schedules to comfort and console students who learned a beloved school secretary would no longer be there. Ruth Marie Porter, a secretary at Sasakwa Elementary School for 19 years, was dead at 64; murdered in her Seminole County home. The man who killed her, 40-year-old Jerald Wayne Harjo, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday.

In a letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, Porter's daughter remembered her mother, the murder and its aftermath. Porter, Mary Branscum wrote "provided many children with a Band-Aid, a pat on the head, a kind word or just a little extra attention when they were needy. Suddenly she was no longer there to do those things. "Even now young adults who were in elementary school at the time will mention how they missed 'Mrs. Porter' after she died."

"She was like a mother to the students," former superintendent Samuel G. Barnes recalled. "I never knew a person who worked in schools who was better liked and respected than she was." Another former school employee, whose signature is illegible, wrote "(Porter) was everything to those students - nurse, grandma and friend. Her death left quite an empty spot at Sasakwa Elementary School and the community. "She was one of a kind."

Friends and family members recall Porter as a kind, gentle and loving woman. She had served in the Womens' Army Corp in World War II, had been a treasurer in her church and had cared for her quadriplegic husband since a car accident in 1960 left him paralyzed. "Those in our family of six girls and two boys always considered Ruth to be our family treasure," Porter's sister, Mary K. Smith said. "She was that good of a person." When Branscum and her husband visited Porter's home the morning of Sunday, Jan. 17, 1988, they found the "family treasure" dead, lying on her back with a pillow over her face. She had suffered scratches to her face, chest, arms and vaginal area. Police also found Porter's windpipe had been crushed, her lower dentures had been displaced and her pubic hair was singed.

"It was so unreal we didn't know what to do or even feel at that time," Branscum recalled. But she and her husband went through the motions; calling family members and letting them know what had happened. None of the calls were easy, but the hardest telephone call was the one she had to make to her father. John Porter was in the Veteran's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., when his wife was killed. "My father didn't have the same light in his eyes and joy in his heart after his wife was murdered," Branscum said.

According to court documents, Porter's Ford Mustang was missing when her body was discovered. Police found the Mustang at the home of Harjo's brother. They also found a bicycle Harjo had been riding in a ditch near Porter's home. After being questioned by police, Harjo confessed to the murder. According to court documents, he had piled two cinder blocks on top of each other and entered the home through a back window. Once inside, he tore eyeholes in a pillowcase and put it over his head before entering Porter's bedroom. When Porter woke, Harjo put a pillow over her face and strangled her with his hands.

Bill Peterson, the Seminole County District Attorney who prosecuted Harjo, said Harjo showed no visible emotion when he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The Shawnee Online

"Harjo Executed; Man Pays for Strangulation Death of Sasakwa Grandmother"

MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) -- A man who strangled a Sasakwa grandmother and smothered her with her pillow 13 years ago paid for the crime with his life Tuesday night. Jerald Wayne Harjo, 40, died at 9:10 p.m. in Oklahoma's death chamber. Harjo's feet knocked together under the white sheet draped across his body. His eyelids fluttered when he closed them, after telling the warden, "Uh, no," when asked if he had any last words. Harjo took one deep breath after the lethal drugs began to flow, then snored as the air left his lungs. He was pronounced dead just two minutes after the execution began. Harjo was the 14th person executed this year and the 44th since the state resumed the death penalty in 1976.

Harjo climbed into 64-year-old Ruth Porter's spare bedroom window to look for keys to her van on the stormy night of Jan. 16, 1988. He murdered her in her bed, took the keys and drove to his brother's house in Wewoka. Porter's daughter found her the next morning with a pillow over her face. Her windpipe was crushed, her face was scratched and bruised and her pubic hair was singed with a lighter. Investigators believe the Sasakwa elementary school secretary was raped.

Her daughter, Mary Branscum, and seven other relatives watched as lethal drugs pumped into Harjo's veins Tuesday night. The first one rendered him unconscious, a second stopped his breathing and the last -- potassium chloride -- arrested his heart. Harjo asked his family not to attend the execution. "As Christians, we are not here for revenge but to see justice served for Ruth Harris Porter," a statement from Porter's family read. "We know that this execution does not make up for what happened to our mother, aunt and grandmother. But Jerald Harjo made his choice and this is the price he must pay." In his last hours, he visited with his attorney and a friend and ate his last meal: a cheeseburger, two hamburgers, two orders of fries, a 16-ounce Dr. Pepper and a large vanilla malt.

Harjo had been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol the night he decided to ride his bicycle to his brother's house in Wewoka, former Seminole County Sheriff Charles Sisco said. A thunderstorm made him ditch the bicycle just north of Sasakwa, next to Porter's rural house. Harjo tried to hot-wire the woman's van, but couldn't. Investigators believe he climbed through a window by stacking cement blocks outside one of Porter's windows. A Wewoka police officer who knew Harjo was on a suspended sentence for stealing a car drove by Harjo's brother's home on a hunch and found the woman's van. Harjo eventually confessed to the crime on audiotape after investigators found his muddy tennis shoe prints on Porter's floor, Sisco said. The jury that recommended the death sentence heard the tape and testimony from a trooper who said he saw Harjo riding down the highway on a bicycle.

Porter's daughter said she hasn't been able to forget the final image of her mother, her nightgown pulled up to her neck and a pillow on her face. Branscum watched Harjo's execution in part for her father, who died in 1993 and asked her to see the process to the end. Her father was in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital when his wife was murdered because he had been paralyzed in an auto accident years earlier. "Never in his wildest dreams did he believe he would outlive her," Branscum wrote recently in a letter to the state attorney general's office. "My father did not have the same light in his eyes and joy in his heart after his wife was murdered."


Jerald Wayne Harjo was convicted in the Jan. 16, 1988, murder of 64-year-old grandmother Ruth Porter in her rural Seminole County home. Harjo broke into Ruth's home to try to find the keys to her van and killed her in her bed, authorities said. Investigators believe he also raped her. Ruth's daughter found the body of the elementary school secretary the next morning. A pillow had been forced onto her face, crushing her windpipe. Authorities said Harjo had been bicycling to his brother's house when it began to rain. He decided to ditch the bicycle and steal Ruth's van. At the time, Harjo was on a suspended sentence for stealing a car. He confessed to the murder after investigators found his muddy tennis shoe prints on Ruth's floor and her van at his brother's house, former Seminole County Sheriff Charles Sisco said. Harjo's final appeal was denied May 14 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Death Penalty Institute of Oklahoma

Jerald Wayne Harjo, 40, was pronounced dead at 9:10pm on Tuesday, July 17. He was killed via lethal injection at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. He became the 14th person executed by Oklahoma this year. Only Texas, with a population six times greater than ours, has executed more people in a single year. Harjo was put to death for the 1988 murder of Ruth Porter, 64. The US Supreme Court had denied Harjo's most recent appeal in May. Vigils and protests were held at numerous locations around the state. As always, a vigil was held outside the gates of Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Remember Jerald Harjo

Case Jerald Wayne Harjo was convicted of first degree murder in Seminole County, Oklahoma. Harjo, who is Native American, was attempting to steal the car of Ruth Porter, a sixty-four-year-old resident with whom Harjo was acquainted, on the night of January 16, 1988. Mrs. Porter awoke as Mr. Harjo entered the bedroom in search of the keys, and startled by her sudden consciousness, Mr. Harjo struggled with and killed Mrs. Porter. Mr. Harjo was drunk at the time of the robbery and murder.

Harjo eventually confessed to his crimes after long deliberation with police, and, during his trial, wrote a letter of remorse to the jury. Yet the court did not allow the statement under the State's hearsay objection, since Harjo, who has a low IQ and could not verbalize his feelings, asked his counsel to read the letter.

Jerald Wayne Harjo was sentenced to death under Oklahoma's "heinous, atrocious, and cruel" aggravator. On appeal, a majority of the Oklahoma Court of Appeals ruled that the struggle that ensued upon Mrs. Porter's awakening consciousness constituted "torture and serious physical abuse".

Judge Lane, in a dissenting opinion joined by Judge Chapel, held: "Before a jury may find a murder is 'especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel', the evidence must allow it to find the murder was preceded by torture or serious physical abuse...I believe the majority's holding...liberalizes death qualification to include any murder by suffocation or strangulation."

Moreover, there was considerable proof that "torture" was not in keeping with Mr. Harjo's personality. Harjo and his counsel argued that a great deal of mitigating evidence was not admitted to trial and, as such, could not provide jurors with a better perspective on Mr. Harjo's character and history. Prior to the conviction, he was "generally a good employee, had served one year with honorable discharge in the National Guard, and had been an excellent prisoner in the county jail." Harjo's attorneys believed that if that mitigating evidence had been admitted, he would not have received a death sentence.