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Wretched Sisters

Examining Gender and Capital Punishmend


Mary Welek Atwell

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, fourteen women have been put to death in the United States. The criminal justice system defines crimes committed by women in a particularly gendered context. Wretched Sisters is unique in its analysis of the legal and cultural circumstances that determine why a small number of women are sentenced to death and provides a detailed account of how these fourteen women came to be subjected to the ultimate punishment.
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Chapter 6. The Oklahoma Three


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Wanda Jean Allen, Marilyn Plantz, Lois Nadean Smith

In 2001, the state of Oklahoma executed three women. It was the greatest number of female executions in America in one year since the Civil War. Researching these stories is a challenge. Unlike other states where trial records of capital cases are available at the State Supreme Court, the State Court of Criminal Appeals, or the State Archives, in Oklahoma transcripts are sent back to the district courts where the case was tried. District court clerks seem overwhelmed with daily responsibilities and less focused on maintaining the historical documents. In each of these cases, the “record” consisted of one or two boxes of the type that holds paper for copiers. The boxes contained whatever someone happened to put into them—subpoenas for prospective jurors, appeals filings, and in one case, ten copies of the death warrant. What was missing was the complete transcript of the trial—voir dire, witness testimony, closing statements, rulings by the judge. Thus Wanda Jean Allen, Marilyn Plantz, Nadean Smith, and presumably all the other people put to death in Oklahoma are at a special disadvantage when their stories are reexamined. The historian must try to explain what happened to them without having a full range of resources. This chapter represents my best effort to understand why they were among the fourteen wretched sisters.

These three women represented milestones. Allen was the first...

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