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OK Executes Child Killer Despite Mental Illness Pleas

Oklahoma executed Benjamin Cole, a 57-year-old man convicted for the murder of his 9-month-old daughter, on Thursday. In the two decades since the crime, the death row inmate’s declining mental condition – magnified by his exposure as a child to drugs and alcohol, substance abuse issues and physical and sexual abuse – has deteriorated so much that Cole is not competent to be executed, his attorneys argued in a clemency petition that failed, CNN reports. Their assertions put front and center a longstanding question in the debate over capital punishment: how it should apply to those who suffer from mental illness. The issue is key in several inmates’ cases as Oklahoma officials plan through 2024 to carry out 25 executions, a spree critics have also condemned amid the state’s history of botched lethal injections.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday denied Cole’s request for a stay of execution after the state parole board last month declined to recommend clemency. The facts of Cole’s case obligate the state to spare his life, his attorneys told parole board members. They pointed to “evolving standards of decency,” including public polling that shows disapproval for executions of the mentally ill. “At this moment,” the attorneys wrote, “Oklahoma has the opportunity to exhibit courage, to follow these standards, and to be on the right side of history by prohibiting the execution of Benjamin Cole, a severely mentally ill and physically infirm person.” The Supreme Court in a 1986 ruling found the execution of the severely mentally ill to be unconstitutional. Cole, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has a brain lesion associated with Parkinson’s disease, lives in a largely “catatonic” state, hardly speaking to anyone, including his own lawyers, according to his clemency petition. Cole was found guilty of the brutal murder of his daughter, Brianna Victoria Cole, in 2002, when her cries interrupted him while he was playing a video game.

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