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Jerald Harjo, 1992


Jerald Wayne Harjo was convicted of first degree murder in Seminole County, Oklahoma. Harjo, who is Native American, was attempting to steal the car of Ruth Porter, a sixty-four-year-old resident with whom Harjo was acquainted, on the night of January 16, 1988. Mrs. Porter awoke as Mr. Harjo entered the bedroom in search of the keys, and startled by her sudden consciousness, Mr. Harjo struggled with and killed Mrs. Porter. Mr. Harjo was drunk at the time of the robbery and murder.

Harjo eventually confessed to his crimes after long deliberation with police, and, during his trial, wrote a letter of remorse to the jury. Yet the court did not allow the statement under the State's hearsay objection, since Harjo, who has a low IQ and could not verbalize his feelings, asked his counsel to read the letter.

Jerald Wayne Harjo was sentenced to death under Oklahoma's "heinous, atrocious, and cruel" aggravator. On appeal, a majority of the Oklahoma Court of Appeals ruled that the struggle that ensued upon Mrs. Porter's awakening consciousness constituted "torture and serious physical abuse".

Judge Lane, in a dissenting opinion joined by Judge Chapel, held: "Before a jury may find a murder is 'especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel', the evidence must allow it to find the murder was preceded by torture or serious physical abuse...I believe the majority's holding...liberalizes death qualification to include any murder by suffocation or strangulation."

Moreover, there was considerable proof that "torture" was not in keeping with Mr. Harjo's personality. Harjo and his counsel argued that a great deal of mitigating evidence was not admitted to trial and, as such, could not provide jurors with a better perspective on Mr. Harjo's character and history. Prior to the conviction, he was "generally a good employee, had served one year with honorable discharge in the National Guard, and had been an excellent prisoner in the county jail." Harjo's attorneys believed that if that mitigating evidence had been admitted, he would not have received a death sentence.

Source: National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Jerald's 1994 Appeal hearing is documented online and provides in depth information about flaws in the prosecution of Jerald's case. He lost this Appeal 3-2 - Judges Lane and Chapel dissented and saw merit in the legal arguments that the crime was not "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel".

Jerald's 2000 Appeal hearing is also documented online.