Saturday, March 12, 2016

Oklahoma death row inmate dead, it is not what you think

This week, a man who was on death row for more than 32 years after being convicted in the 1983 strangulation death of a county jail inmate's life ended in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester where so many of his fellow death row inmates were executed.
DOC public information officer Alex Gerszewski told the Tulsa World that Sammy Van Woudenberg, 65, died on March 5 of natural causes. That's right, natural causes, he wasn't executed although he sat on death row for 32 years.
Van Woudenberg was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1983 death of Mark Berry, who was 25 when he was strangled in the Muskogee County Jail in Oklahoma.
A roster of current death row inmates maintained by the DOC appears to indicate Van Woudenberg, at 32 years and 56 days, had been on death row the longest at the time he died.
Gerszewski said prison staff discovered he was dead while delivering his evening meal to his cell at the .
Tulsa World archives indicate Van Woudenberg had been found incompetent to be executed in 1994, and that he had been sent at that time to a unit for prisoners with special needs to receive psychiatric care. A judge said his death sentence could be carried out if his mental health improved, according to court documents.
So as it turns out, was Wouderberg's sentence really a life sentence--he spent his entire life after the crime in prison?  Was it a death sentence because he died in prison--like a lot of death row inmates or is every life sentence actually a death sentence because the lifer will--like death row inmates--ultimately die in prison?
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