By Varun Noronha
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Anthony Sanchez’s last words were, “I didn’t kill nobody” just before the 44-year-old member of the Choctaw Nation was executed by lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary Thursday morning.
Sanchez was charged with the sexual assault and murder of Jewell “Juli” Busken in 2004 and sentenced to death in 2006.
Busken, a 21-year-old dance student at the University of Oklahoma was found dead in Oklahoma City near Lake Stanley Draper in 1996. Authorities reported that she had been kidnapped, raped, then shot in the head.
The investigation remained open for eight years, until police claimed newly uncovered DNA evidence linked Sanchez to the crime.
In a 2023 interview with Newsweek, Sanchez stated, “That is false DNA. That is not my DNA. I’ve been saying that since day one,” and maintained his innocence throughout his 17 years on death row.
About 20 people gathered in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Oklahoma City to protest Sanchez’s execution, according to news reports.
The protestors were organized by the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP), a grassroots organization that wants to fully eliminate the use of the death penalty in Oklahoma.
The protestors sought to draw attention to their state’s prolific use of capital punishment. Over the past 50 years, Oklahoma has carried out more executions than any state except Texas, they said.
Sanchez was the third inmate put to death by Oklahoma in 2023. His execution is one of 11 scheduled this year.
The rapid rate of executions restarted after a six-year moratorium on lethal injections. Following one botched execution and two drug mix-ups, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered an indefinite hold on executions in 2015.
The Court of Criminal Appeals lifted the moratorium in 2021 and immediately scheduled seven executions, despite the objections of the independent Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, explained the anti-death penalty group.
After more than a year of research, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released a report showing 10 people on death row in Oklahoma had been exonerated in the past and argued, “It is undeniable that innocent people have been sentenced to death in Oklahoma.”
Paris Powell, one of the men exonerated from death row in Oklahoma, attended the vigil outside the Governor’s Mansion, said OK-CADP, and stressed “how meaningful it was for those on death row to know these vigils are taking place.”
Rev. Don Heath, the OK-CADP chair, objected to the execution, shared by many capital punishment protestors, arguing, “I don’t know if Anthony Sanchez committed this murder and the State doesn’t either. I do know that it was wrong for the state to execute him.”