Oklahoma to Execute a Brain-Damaged Black Woman

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Wanda Jean Allen

(WOMENSENEWS)–An Oklahoma death-penalty panel refused to grant clemency to a 41-year-old black woman said to be brain damaged. Wanda Jean Allen is expected to die January 11 and will join eight others on Oklahoma’s death row to be executed in a four-week period in January, a historic peak.

Allen, convicted of murdering her female lover, faced a five-person state pardon and parole board that in 10 years has yet to approve a clemency request. Last Thursday, Dec. 14, it voted 3-1 to deny clemency. Since reinstating the death penalty in 1990, the state has executed 30 people. Gov. Frank Keating has no power to overrule the panel and could only extend a 60-day stay to Allen.

Allen was convicted of murdering her lover, Gloria Leathers, during a lengthy dispute that began in their home and ended in front of a police station. Allen claimed Leathers had attacked her with a rake. Leathers was known to be violent and had murdered a woman in 1979 in Tulsa, Okla.

Allen’s supporters say she has an IQ of 69 as a result of brain damage she suffered as a teen when she was struck by a truck and, in a separate incident, stabbed in the temple. Others say that her sexual orientation prejudiced the prosecutor, influencing his decision to seek the death penalty and the manner in which the trial was conducted.

Allen’s lawyer, having never tried a capital case, tried twice to withdraw from the case, once after he was paid only $800 of his $5,000 fee, and again after the state announced it would seek the death penalty. Both times his motions were denied.

If she is executed, Allen will become the first black woman executed in the United States since 1954 and the first black woman executed in Oklahoma since 1903.

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