This January 15th, the day of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, should be a time to remember, celebrate and carry on his tireless fight for justice and racial equality. However the state of Oklahoma and the state of Florida are taking this day to execute two of their citizens. We are outraged that Charles Frederick Warner, in Oklahoma, and Johnny Shane Kormondy, in Florida, are scheduled to be killed on Dr. King’s birthday and demand an end to state sanctioned murder.
Dr. King opposed capital punishment, stating “I do not think that God approves of the death penalty for any crime, rape and murder included. Capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology and above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.” Capital punishment not only violates Dr. King’s stance against violence, but is a discriminatory punishment which perpetuates the racism and classism that he combatted. As the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty writes, “The death penalty has no place within the moral framework of a more peaceful and just society, which Dr. King gave his life for.” The state sanctioned murder of these two men is unacceptable on any day, but it is an even greater abomination on Dr. King’s birthday. This nation must truly honor the legacy of this great man, not just through words and gestures but through actions that create a more just society.
While we challenge the right of any state government to kill its people, we have particular concerns about the execution protocols of Florida and Oklahoma. In Florida, Johnny Kormondy’s execution is scheduled to proceed despite his claims of a sentencing disparity. While his two co-defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, Kormondy was sentenced to death based on the belief that he was the gunman in the murder the three men participated in. In 2005 the two other co-defendants recanted their statements, saying that Kormondy was not the shooter. His death sentence has been upheld nevertheless. As a state with a both a high number of executions—accounting for 20% of US death sentences in 2013—and the highest number of exonerations—25 since the 1970s– Florida has shown that it applies capital punishment without prudence or genuine respect for the lives of its citizens.
There are also serious concerns about the use of the death penalty in Oklahoma. Charles Warner will be the first person to be executed there since the state’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29th, 2014. Lockett, who had been challenging the state’s secrecy laws concealing the drugs used in executions, was subjected to a brutal death lasting more than 40 minutes. Charles Warner has been fighting his upcoming execution, calling attention to the fact that the state will be using the same dangerous drugs they used in Lockett’s execution. The state has failed to make significant changes to their execution protocol beyond restricting transparency even further. In order to have confidence in a modern criminal justice system, there must be more transparency and accountability not less—especially when matters of life or death are on the line.
We must hold these states accountable and demand that all citizens, including those on death row, are granted the Constitutional rights—in the case of those awaiting execution, the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment. Dr. King taught that “Every person must be respected because God loves him or her. The worth of an individual does not lie in the measure of his intellect, his racial origin or his social position. Human worth lies in relatedness to God. An individual has value because he or she has value to God.” On the day of his birth, and on all days, we call for these states to honor the worth of all their people. Halt all executions. It’s time for the death penalty to end.
We encourage those in the Oklahoma City area to attend the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s press conference for Charles Frederick Warner, “What Would Martin Luther King Jr. Do?” on Thursday, Jan. 15 at 10 a.m. on the east side of the State Capitol 2nd floor rotunda outside Gov. Mary Fallin’s office.
Later that day, at 5:15 p.m. OK-CADP invites the public to join the Charles Frederick Warner “Don’t Kill for Me” demonstration in front of the Governor’s mansion, 820 NE 23rd Street at Phillips Avenue. At 6 p.m. participants will begin a silent vigil until notice of a stay of execution is received or the execution is carried out.
Vigils will also be carried out throughout Florida in opposition to the execution of Johnny Shane Kormondy. You can also send a letter to Gov. Scott calling on him to commute Kormondy’s death sentence and to halt all executions.
For more information visit www.okcadp.org
For information on Florida actions visit http://www.fadp.org/