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Gazette Premium Content Death penalty cases filled with pain, suffering

The Oklahoman editorial Published: June 24, 2013

In March 2004, David Magnan shot and killed three people in Seminole County, and wounded another. He admitted as much and was sentenced to death, although a date with the executioner is far from set.

Paula Cooper won't ever face such a fate, even though she killed a woman in Indiana by slicing her 33 times with a butcher knife. Cooper, 15 at the time of the 1986 crime, confessed to the killing and was given a death sentence, but last week she walked out of prison a free woman.

Brian D. Davis won't be walking away from the needle. Gov. Mary Fallin made sure of that last week when she refused to issue a stay of execution after the state Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Davis, who raped and killed his girlfriend's mother in 2001.

Three death penalty cases, three very different outcomes. Except for the victims and their families, of course. Their pain and suffering is a constant.

The Magnan case appeared to be clear cut: He pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of shooting with intent to kill. But later he appealed, saying the state didn't have jurisdiction to prosecute him because the killings occurred on Indian land.

Magnan is a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes; three of his victims were Seminole Indians.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver agreed with Magnan's argument. Now the Oklahoma attorney general's office is weighing its options. It can ask the Denver court for a rehearing, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or do nothing, which would likely clear the way for federal prosecutors to take over the case.

Eight years after the crime, the case will essentially begin all over again for the victims' families and friends.

Paula Cooper's case caused quite a stir at the time. After helping torture and kill a 78-year-old woman during a robbery in Gary, Ind., Cooper was sentenced to death at age 16 - angering human rights activists in the United States and Europe. Pope John Paul II called for clemency.

In 1988, two years after she was sentenced, the Supreme Court said in a separate case that it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute offenders who were younger than 16 at the time of the crime. Indiana's supreme court set aside Cooper's death sentence and ordered her to serve 60 years.

Now 43, she earned a bachelor's degree while behind bars. "She needs to get back to living," Indiana's prison spokesman said.

As it happens, the victim's son would agree - he said his mother would have been horrified by someone so young going to death row.

Brian Davis can't use age as an excuse. He was 27 when he stabbed Josephine Sanford, 52, six times and broke her jaw in November 2001. Sanford's daughter found the body in the apartment she and Davis shared in Ponca City. Her mother had been an active leader in a local Baptist church and was president of the Kiwanis Club.

Davis didn't deny killing the woman, but indicated the sex was consensual and that he stabbed her during a heated argument. This wasn't Davis' first run-in with the law, either. He had two previous felony convictions, for second-degree rape and possession of cocaine.

Davis has a few more days to plead his case. His execution is scheduled Tuesday. - The Oklahoman

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