Oklahoma prepares to execute man convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering 7-year-old girl in 1984

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma plans to execute a man convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl in 1984 on Thursday.

Richard Rojem, 66, has exhausted his appeals and is scheduled to receive a lethal injection of three drugs at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

At a clemency hearing earlier this month, Rojem denied responsibility for the murder of his former stepdaughter, Layla Cummings. The child’s mutilated and partially clothed body was discovered in a field in western Oklahoma near the town of Burns Flat. She had been stabbed to death.

Richard Rojem on February 11, 2023. Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP

“I was not a good human being for the first part of my life, and I don’t deny that,” Rojem, handcuffed and dressed in a red prison uniform, said when he appeared via link video from jail in state clemency court. and Parole Board. “But I went to prison. I learned my lesson and put it all behind me.

The board unanimously rejected Rojem’s request for clemency. Rojem’s attorney, Jack Fisher, said there is no pending appeal that would halt his execution.

Rojem had previously been convicted of raping two teenage girls in Michigan, and prosecutors say he was angry with Layla Cummings because she reported he had sexually assaulted her, leading to his divorce of the girl’s mother and her return to prison for violating her parole.

“For many years, the shock of losing her and the knowledge of the terror, pain and suffering she endured at the hands of this soulless monster was more than I could imagine to survive from day to day. day,” said Layla’s mother, Mindy Lynn. Cummings, wrote to the parole board.

Rojem’s lawyers argued that DNA evidence taken from the girl’s fingernails did not link him to the crime and urged the Pardon Board to recommend that his life be spared and his sentence commuted to life in prison without possibility of parole.

“If my client’s DNA is not present, he should not be convicted,” Fisher said.

Prosecutors say extensive evidence other than DNA was used to convict Rojem, including a fingerprint discovered outside the girl’s apartment on a mug from a bar Rojem left just before the kidnapping of the young girl. A condom wrapper found near the girl’s body was also linked to a used condom found in Rojem’s bedroom, prosecutors said.

A Washita County jury convicted Rojem in 1985 after just 45 minutes of deliberations. His previous death sentences were twice overturned by appeals courts due to errors in judgment. A Custer County jury finally gave him his third death sentence in 2007.

Oklahoma, which has executed more inmates per capita than any other state in the country since reinstating the death penalty in 1976, has carried out 12 executions since lethal injections resumed in October 2021, after a hiatus of nearly six years resulting from execution problems in 2014 and 2015.

Opponents of the death penalty planned to hold vigils Thursday outside the governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

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