Families of Oklahoma murder victims say justice may be closer
At her murdered parents' graves, Debra Wyatt made a solemn promise to see their killer executed.
She has been waiting 16 years.
On Friday, though, she said she is now cautiously optimistic that murderer Scott James Eizember will get what he deserves.
She and other family members of murder victims were told Thursday by the state attorney general that a reliable supply of drugs has been found to resume lethal injection executions.
In August, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals could begin setting execution dates, they were told in a conference call.
"It's very hard to get our hopes up," said Wyatt, 63, of Fairview. "Life is not fair. You find a ray of hope in anything that you can. ... We pray about it. I pray that, you know, I will live to watch it happen. But I don't know. My MS is not doing me any favors."
Eizember was sentenced to death for the fatal bludgeoning of A.J. Cantrell, 76, and to 150 years in prison for the fatal shooting of Patsy Cantrell, 70. He had broken into their Dewey home in October 2003 to spy on an ex-girlfriend.
Now 59, he is one of 26 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals.
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Executions were called off in Oklahoma in 2015 because of a drug mix-up that was caught in the last minutes. Two years ago, state officials announced nitrogen gas would be used in the future because lethal injection drugs had become increasingly difficult to find. But a new problem arose. No manufacturer of gas delivery devices was willing to sell the equipment for use in an execution.
Terry Wyatt believes the stress of the wait contributed to his wife getting multiple sclerosis.
"We got to thinking that, 'Well, you know, they're never going to get there.' We were kind of discouraged," he said.
The changeover to nitrogen gas has been put on hold for as long as lethal injection drugs are available.
Kim Tryon doesn't care how her brother's killer, Wade Greely Lay, is executed.
"Sixteen years to wait for a sentence to be carried out is just way too long," she said Friday.
"It's getting closer," she said. "I'm glad it's finally going to happen ... not just for our family but for all the families."
Lay was sentenced to death for fatally shooting security guard Kenneth Anderson in 2004 during a bank robbery in Tulsa. Tryon, who lives in Bixby, wishes Lay, now 58, could be put in front of a firing squad.
"When you kill someone, you should be put to death the same way," she said. "That's my belief. ... They should feel the same pain that they put their victims through. If that happened, maybe people would think twice about doing stuff."
Yeh-Shen White-Hicks was 4 when her mother was stabbed to death in 1995 at their Tulsa apartment.
She said she felt a range of emotions during the conference call Thursday with Attorney General Mike Hunter. One was gratitude toward the AG's office for getting "the ball going again," she said.
"It was definitely a draining phone call," she said.
"If you could only imagine just waiting 25 years to have someone put to death," she said. "There's no words to make it make sense. ... It angers me because you have to go with the pain for so long and you have to live it day by day because we're doing it — as society calls it — the 'humane' way or the 'morally correct' way according to law. But if you think about your loved one, you think none of that was considered when their life was taken."
She intends to be there when her mother's killer, Jemaine Monteil Cannon, 48, is executed.
"Through hell or high water, I plan to have a front-row seat," said White-Hicks, who lives in Missouri.
She said she still recalls the details of the day that changed her entire life. She remembers her mom dropping her and her little sister off at daycare and never picking them up. She remembers going with the daycare lady to her apartment complex across the street and knocking on the wrong doors. She remembers waiting back at the daycare for his sister's grandmother to come get them.
At a news conference Thursday announcing the resumption of executions, state officials said family members of murder victims have had to wait too long.
Gov. Kevin Stitt talked about the grief and loss of the families and friends of murder victims and said he appreciated their patience. About death row inmates, he said they have committed unspeakable acts and will be held accountable.
Hunter told The Oklahoman he spoke with the families Thursday for 45 minutes to an hour.
"It was a tough call," he said. "These cases are all horrible. They all have facts and circumstances that are chilling."
About capital punishment, he said, "It's one of our most important responsibility. ... We approach it with the seriousness and solemnity that it deserves. It's a part of what we do that we feel very strongly about and are committed to."
He complained Friday that one-sided documentaries on death row inmates have hurt public perception about capital punishment and may be affecting appeals.
"We can't have an appellate process that's governed by documentaries," he said.
After such a documentary airs, "there's a hue and cry about somebody's innocence and about injustice and the fact that the system doesn't work, the fact that the system hasn't worked," he said.
"It's very hard to address and rebut," he said. "Hundreds of thousands of people see it. It's just hard to be the person that says, 'Well, there's a whole lot more to that story than what you saw on TV.'"
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,... Read more ›