© 2021 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Help us answer phones and take pledges during our upcoming membership drive on Dec 6th & 7th. Sign up here!

Oklahoma executes Benjamin Cole, the sixth death row inmate to be killed since the state resumed capital punishment

benjamincole.jpg
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
Benjamin Robert Cole Sr.

Updated: October 20 at 12:30 p.m.

For the fourth time in 2022 and just the sixth time in nearly eight years, Oklahoma has executed a death row inmate.

Benjamin Robert Cole Sr. was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 10:22 a.m. Thursday morning. He's the sixth death row inmate to be killed since the state resumed capital punishment in October 2021 after a six-year moratorium. He was 57.

Cole was convicted in the 2002 killing of his nine-month-old daughter, Brianna Cole. Prosecutors alleged Cole broke the child's back when he became angry at her crying while he was playing a Nintendo video game.

Five media members were selected by a random draw to witness the execution: Sean Murphy (Associated Press), Nolan Clay (The Oklahoman), Adrian O’Hanlon III (McAlester News-Capital), Andy Weber (KOCO) and Katelyn Ogle (KFOR).

The witnesses didn’t note any major issues with the execution, and Murphy said it was similar to previous executions he has seen. Cole spoke for about two minutes in his final words, often in a raspy whisper. Witnesses noted he was incoherent at times and offered a stream-of-consciousness prayer.

Attorney Tom Hird has continually claimed Cole to be a person with serious mental illness. He claims Cole's undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenia and brain damage led to the victim’s death.

"Over his years on death row, Ben slipped into a world of delusion and darkness. Although I represented him for many years, he was often unable to interact with my colleagues and me in any meaningful way," Hird said in a statement. "As Ben’s physical health deteriorated along with his mind, he became progressively more detached from reality, refusing to leave his cell, moving little and with difficulty, and rarely speaking to anyone."

State officials dispute this, with a state forensic psychologist reporting Cole did not exhibit any substantial signs of hallucinations, mental illness or intellectual impairment when he was evaluated earlier this year.

The victim’s uncle and aunt, Dr. Bryan Young and Donna Daniel, spoke after the execution.

"We should not have to wait 20 years for a nine-month-old baby to get her justice. He should have been executed many years ago," said Daniel. "We have this little girl that we never got to know... we didn’t get to see grow up."

Oklahoma has three more executions scheduled this year and 23 more before the end of 2024.

ORIGINAL POST:

Oklahoma death row inmate Benjamin Cole is set to be executed on Thursday morning.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied his last-minute appeal on Wednesday. Cole was also denied clemency by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board last month.

Cole is on death row for the 2002 killing of his nine-month-old daughter, Brianna Cole. Prosecutors alleged Cole broke the child's back when he became angry at her crying while he was playing a Nintendo video game.

Cole's attorneys claim he is mentally ill and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. But, a state forensic psychologist met with Cole and reported he did not exhibit any substantial signs of hallucinations, mental illness or intellectual impairment.

The 57-year-old is the second in a string of dozens of death row inmates scheduled for execution over the next two years. Those executions were scheduled after a federal judge ruled in June that Oklahoma's controversial three-drug lethal injection protocol is constitutional.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board

In May 2022, a grand jury report deemed Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's actions with potential members of the Pardon and Parole Board as "grossly improper." The report said "improper political pressure was placed upon some board members" and pointed to a meeting Stitt had with people he ultimately appointed to the board. That meeting included discussions of upcoming votes and the dismissal of the agency's then-director.

That same report concluded the board cut corners and ignored processes in order to get a large amount of people onto commutation dockets.

Stitt's office called the report a "sham."

The governor appoints three of the five members of the Pardon and Parole Board, and Scott Williams, Edward Konieczny and Cathy Stocker were all appointed by Stitt. The latter two were appointed earlier this year, following the resignations of Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle. Luck, who served on the board since 2019, resigned at the request of the governor. In his resignation letter, Luck noted differing beliefs between himself and Stitt over executions.

A torturous history

For years, executions in Oklahoma have been gruesome and filled with protocol violations.

In October 2021, in the state's first execution in seven years, John Grant convulsed and vomited repeatedly after being administered the three-drug cocktail. But, since then, the executions of four inmates — Bigler Stouffer, Donald Grant, Gilbert Postelle and James Coddington — were all reported by witnesses to happen without any complications.

Executions had been on pause in Oklahoma following the near-execution of Richard Glossip in 2015, and the botched lethal injections of Charles Warner in 2015 and Clayton Lockett in 2014.

Glossip was scheduled to die in September 2015, but then-Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a last-minute stay of execution after it was discovered the Department of Corrections received a shipment of potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, as required in the state's execution protocol.

Recently, Glossip had his scheduled execution halted for a fourth time, as the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reviews a request for a new hearing.

An autopsy report revealed the state used the wrong drug — again, potassium acetate — to execute Warner in January 2015. According to witnesses, Warner said, "It feels like acid," and "My body is on fire" while being given the three-drug cocktail.

Lockett's April 2014 execution was also botched. A report issued after his death found that after trying for 51 minutes to find a vein, a phlebotomist misplaced the IV line intended to deliver the lethal cocktail of drugs directly into Lockett's bloodstream. Instead, the cocktail was delivered to the surrounding tissue.

Lockett writhed on the gurney and mumbled before being pronounced dead 43 minutes after the procedure began. An investigation later revealed that the faulty insertion of the intravenous line and lack of training of the execution team contributed to the problems.

In January 2014, Oklahoma executed Michael Lee Wilson by lethal injection. Shortly after his execution started, Wilson's final words were, "I feel my whole body burning."

Updated: October 20, 2022 at 10:39 AM CDT
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
Hey! Did you enjoy this story? We can’t do it without you. We are member-supported, so your donation is critical to KOSU's news reporting and music programming. Help support the reporters, DJs and staff of the station you love.

Here's how:

Related Content