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Inmate seeks no appeals to stop lethal injection

May 7, 1997

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Convicted killer Scott Dawn Carpenter is willing, at age 22, to become the youngest criminal executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

His decision to forgo appeals has renewed debate in Oklahoma over how far the state should go to protect someone sentenced to death.

One side says Carpenter has the right to ask that nothing stop the lethal injection scheduled after 12:01 a.m. Thursday at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. The other equates his choice with suicide.

``He’s made a well-thought and well-reasoned decision,″ said Thomas Giulioli, who prosecuted Carpenter. ``He does not want to spend the rest of his life in the penitentiary. He knows he is guilty and ... decided he’d rather go ahead and be executed.″

But others say they aren’t convinced Oklahoma has adopted adequate safeguards to ensure a prisoner is mentally fit to make such a decision. The precedent was set in the case of Thomas Grasso, who went to court to seek a speedy execution.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals found that a competency hearing must be held before a death row inmate can waive rights to further appeals. Grasso passed the test and was put to death in March 1995.

Some people had feared a rash of copycat volunteers on death row, but Carpenter was the first in Oklahoma.

Carpenter was sentenced to death for stabbing Lake Eufaula store owner A.J. Kelley in 1994, when Carpenter was 19 and had no prior convictions.

On Jan. 9, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals received his letter asking that an execution date be set.

That request led in February to a competency hearing where evidence indicated he was neither suicidal nor depressed. Carpenter told the judge he understands the difference between life and death.

``There’s no chance for me to ever be out in the free world,″ he testified. ``Living in the system all my life, I don’t see no future in that.″

His attorney, Deborah Reheard, said she opposes capital punishment but is satisfied Oklahoma made a thorough examination of Carpenter’s competency.

But Jeremy Lowrey of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System said he suspects Carpenter might have brain damage and psychological problems that went undetected during his hearing. Lowrey lobbied unsuccessfully for further evaluation.

``Most death row inmates probably reach the point where they want to quit, but it’s a passing thing,″ Lowrey said. ``My experience generally is human beings want to live more than they want to die.″

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said 49 of the last 376 Americans executed have waived their appeals. Dieter, whose group opposes capital punishment, said Carpenter would be the youngest since 1976.

Those who seek their own execution are disrupting the balance of the judicial system’s adversarial nature, Dieter said. They also are robbing themselves of the chance to get off if trial errors surface during appeal.

``Part of the execution should be the appeals process. One comes with the other,″ he said. ``Because it’s such an important state decision, the state has an interest in not making mistakes, in not allowing people to make fatal mistakes.″

The son of Carpenter’s victim says Carpenter is simply a coward.

Carl Kelley said he wanted Carpenter to endure years of appeals before finally succumbing to lethal injection.

``When he’s gone, when the deed is done, the punishment is over,″ Kelley said. ``I wanted him to live, and he doesn’t want to live. He’s almost robbed us of the punishment.″

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