McALESTER, Okla. (AP) – A 57-year-old Oklahoma man will receive a lethal injection Thursday for killing his 9-month-old daughter in 2002, despite claims by his lawyers that he is mentally ill and incapable of executing.
Lawyers for Benjamin Cole do not dispute that he killed Brianna Cole by forcibly bending the child backwards, breaking her spine and tearing her aorta, but allege he is both seriously mentally ill and has a growing lesion in his brain it has continued to grow. worsen while in prison.
Cole has refused medical attention, ignoring his personal hygiene, food hoarding and living in a darkened cell with little to no communication with staff or fellow inmates, his lawyers told the State Pardon and Parole Board last month at a leniency hearing.
“His condition has continued to deteriorate over the course of this year,” Cole’s attorney Katrina Conrad-Legler said.
The panel voted 4-1 to refuse a pardon, and a district judge earlier this month determined that Cole was qualified to be executed. A last-minute appeal filed with the US Supreme Court to stop his execution was denied on Wednesday.
Cole has a lesion in his brain, which is separate from his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, which has grown in size in recent years and affects the part of his brain that deals with problem solving, movement and social interaction, Conrad said. legler.
State attorneys and members of the victim’s family told the board that Cole’s mental illness symptoms are exaggerated and that the brutal nature of his daughter’s murder justifies his execution.
Assistant Attorney General Tessa Henry said Cole killed his daughter because he was furious that her crying from her crib interrupted playing a video game.
“He is not seriously mentally ill,” said another prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Ashley Willis. “There is nothing in the constitution or jurisprudence to prevent his execution.”
Prosecutors noted that the child had numerous injuries consistent with a history of abuse and that Cole had previously been in prison in California for abusing another child.
Board members also heard emotional testimonies from relatives of the mother of the murdered child, who urged the board to reject leniency.
“The first time I saw Brianna in person it was in a coffin,” said Donna Daniel, the victim’s aunt. “Do you know how horrible it is to see a 9 month old baby lying in a coffin?
“This baby deserves justice. Our family deserves justice.”
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said in a statement that he believes Cole is sufficiently qualified to be executed.
“While his lawyers claim Cole is mentally ill to the point of catatonia, the fact is that Cole fully cooperated with a mental evaluation in July this year,” O’Connor said. “The evaluator, who was not hired by Cole or the state, found Cole qualified to be executed and that ‘Mr. Cole is currently not showing any substantial, overt signs of mental illness, intellectual impairment, and/or neurocognitive impairment.’”
Cole’s execution would be the sixth since Oklahoma resumed the death penalty in October 2021.
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