Saturday, June 29, 2024

Oklahoma man executed after 40 years on death row

The 9th Execution of 2024

After waiting almost 40 years to be executed, convicted child murderer Richard Norman Rojem Jr. had nothing to say, reported the Oklahoman.

There was no final declaration of innocence Thursday. There were no expressions of remorse or regret.

On the execution gurney, he mumbled he had no final words. "I've said my goodbyes," he added.

At 10:03 a.m., the drugs began flowing in the death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. At 10:16 a.m., he was pronounced dead.

Rojem, 66, was executed by lethal injection for murdering his former stepdaughter, Layla Dawn Cummings, in 1984. She was 7.

Her mother, Mindy Cummings, watched from a witness room.

"We are grateful today for justice served and the peace of knowing that Richard Rojem can never hurt us or any other person again," she said in a statement read by Oklahoma's attorney general to the media.

Rojem was the longest-serving death row inmate in state history, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He also was one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the United States.

His execution was delayed for decades largely because he twice successfully challenged his punishment. He was resentenced in 2003 and 2007 and did not exhaust his appeals until 2017. At that time, executions were on hold in Oklahoma.

He was the 13th inmate to be executed since the state resumed capital punishment in October 2021 after a hiatus of more than six years.

Executions were put on hold in 2015 because of a series of issues with the procedure. The first one after the hiatus was widely described as botched after media witnesses reported the inmate repeatedly convulsed and vomited.

Rojem's execution, though, was the latest to be carried out without any visible complications. "There were no incidents, issues or problems," said Steven Harpe, the executive director of the Department of Corrections.

Tulsa television reporter Reagan Ledbetter described the execution as very routine. "I've witnessed four of these now. It appeared to go smooth," he said.


Rojem did not seek any last-minute stays. He maintained all along that he was innocent.

"I did not kidnap Layla, I did not rape Layla, and I did not murder her," he told the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board earlier this month.

Layla Dawn Cummings was abducted late July 6 or early July 7 in 1984 from an Elk City apartment while her mother was at work at a McDonald's restaurant. Photos of the kidnapping scene show her doll atop her bed. Her brother, Jason, then 9, said "Rick" was in the apartment at the time she was taken, according to testimony from his 1985 trial.

A farmer found her body on the morning of July 7 in a plowed field near Burns Flat. She had been raped and stabbed.

Rojem, then 26, lived at the time in Burns Flat. He married the victim's mother while he was in prison in Michigan for sex offenses against two teenage girls, according to court records. She was the sister of his cellmate. He came to Oklahoma after being paroled in 1982.

He and Mindy Cummings had been divorced for about two months at the time of the murder. He had been seeking a reconciliation.

In her statement Thursday, the mother also blamed Rojem for the death of Layla's father.

"Today, we also honor the memory of Layla and Jason's father, Don Cummings, who is not with us today due to the absolute evil of a monster who purposely tormented him to the brink of despair that ended his life," she said.

Don Cummings committed suicide in Michigan in 1985, writing in a note, "Maybe now I can rest," according to the AG's office.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who witnessed the execution, said afterward that his prayer is that "today's action" brings a sense of comfort to those who loved Layla.

In the death chamber with Rojem was a spiritual adviser, a Buddhist monk from California. Reverend Master Daishin Yalon stood at Rojem's feet under the watch of a guard after the execution began. The adviser and Rojem at least twice spoke to each other before Rojem became unconscious.

Rojem became a Zen Buddhist in prison and was known by other followers as Daiji, according to his attorneys.

Rojem had his last meal at 5:48 p.m. Wednesday. He had two small Little Caesars double cheese double pepperoni pizzas and two cups of vanilla ice cream, corrections officials said. He also had a bottle of Vernors ginger ale.

The Pardon and Parole Board voted 5-0 on June 17 to deny Rojem clemency. That vote meant Gov. Kevin Stitt could not commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Up next is Emmanuel Littlejohn, who was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of an Oklahoma City convenience store owner. His execution has not been scheduled yet but will likely take place in September.

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