In a new book, Death and Justice, former Los Angeles Police Department detective Mark Fuhrman and Stephen Weeks take a look at the justice system in the state of Oklahoma, where 21 death row inmates were executed in 2001.
They find that the "frontier justice" that Oklahoma has been known for since the 1890s is alive and well, and that death row inmates are being put to death at record levels.
Here is an excerpt of their book.
Chapter One: Frontier Justice
"It's a mess down here in Oklahoma!" Jack Dempsey Pointer said in his booming good-ol'-boy voice. "We're executing people; we don't know if they're innocent or guilty. It's a regular death factory."
Pointer, president of the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers' Association, was a guest on my radio show for KXLY Spokane in October 2001. I told Pointer I was skeptical.
"Fuhrman, you're just saying that because you're a cop and I'm a defense lawyer. It's your job to put criminals in jail and it's my job to keep them out," Pointer said. "But if you don't believe me, then come down here and see for yourself."
So I did. At first glance, I liked Oklahoma. The landscape is flat and somewhat monotonous, but the people are friendly. They wear Wranglers and eat red meat and listen to country music and vote Republican. Instantly I felt I was among friends.
In many ways, Oklahoma is like a place lost in time. The cowboy past is more powerfully felt there than in most other places because that past is still so recent. Originally a territory for displaced Indian tribes, Oklahoma did not achieve statehood until 1907. The ethos of frontier justice has dominated Oklahoma since the 1890s, when "hanging judge" Isaac Parker sent eighty-seven men to the gallows.
On my first night in Oklahoma City, I met Jack Dempsey Pointer, a jovial, outspoken man who is so large that he can barely fit in the front seat of his Jaguar. Pointer took me to the Oyster Bar, a downtown watering hole where people on both sides of Oklahoma City law enforcement go to unwind, gossip, and sometimes even negotiate plea bargains.
Over the next few days I met defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and cops. I was taken by how friendly and open people were. Even if they didn't want to tell me anything, they would be very polite about it. After my rather chilly treatment in Greenwich, Connecticut, while investigating the murder of Martha Moxley, or Spokane, Washington, on the trail of a serial killer, Oklahoma was a pleasant surprise.
Hanging around with the folks in Oklahoma made me feel like I was back among my old LAPD colleagues. We traded stories about crime and punishment. They had a good sense of humor and weren't easily offended. Even those few who didn't want to talk to me were very gracious about it.
The attitude among most Oklahomans — not just law enforcement professionals but also waitresses, cabdrivers, and businesspeople — was basically "hang'em high." It was reassuring to hear even some defense attorneys defend the death penalty. In Oklahoma it's politically correct to support the death penalty. If you have any doubts about it, then you must be a liberal or something even worse.