Oklahoma executes Benjamin Cole for 2002 murder of his baby daughter despite mental illness claims

Inmate Benjamin Cole was executed by the state of Oklahoma Thursday morning for the 2002 killing of his 9-month-old daughter.

He was pronounced dead at 10.22am Central Time.

The 57-year-old died by lethal injection.

His attorneys had previously argued that Cole was mentally ill and not competent to be executed.

Cole was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and, according to his attorneys, is ‘incapacitated by his mental illness to the point of being essentially non-functional.’

Attorneys for the state and members of the victim’s family, however, have said that symptoms of Cole’s mental illness are exaggerated and that the brutality of his daughter’s killing merited the death penalty. 

In 2002, Brianna Cole was murdered by her father, who forcibly bent the infant backwards until her spine broke and her aorta tore.

Cole’s was the sixth execution carried out in Oklahoma since October 2021 when the state recommenced the practice. 

Benjamin Robert Cole, 57, was killed by the state of Oklahoma Thursday morning after being convicted of the 2002 murder of his infant daughter

Benjamin Robert Cole, 57, was killed by the state of Oklahoma Thursday morning after being convicted of the 2002 murder of his infant daughter

Cole's attorneys unsuccessfully argued for clemency for the murderer due to severe mental illness and a continually growing lesion on his brain that impacted his problem solving, movement and social interactions

Cole’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued for clemency for the murderer due to severe mental illness and a continually growing lesion on his brain that impacted his problem solving, movement and social interactions

Brianna Cole was tragically killed by her father in on December 20, 2002. She was nine months old

Brianna Cole was tragically killed by her father in on December 20, 2002. She was nine months old

His attorneys, however, argued Cole was both severely mentally ill and had a growing lesion on his brain that gradually worsened as he sat in prison.

The lesion impacts the part of his brain that deals with problem solving, movement and social interaction. The sort of lesion he has is often associated with Parkinsonism disease.

While awaiting execution on death row, Cole reportedly neglected his personal hygiene and refused medical attention. He hoarded food and barely communicated with other prisoners or prison staff.

His attorney, Katrina Conrad-Leger, said his ‘condition has continued to decline over the course of this year.’

According to his clemency petition, Cole lived in an all-but ‘catatonic’ state.

‘His own attorneys have not been able to have a meaningful interaction with him for years, and the staff who interact with him in the prison every day confirm that he cannot communicate or take care of his most basic hygiene. He simply does not have a rational understanding of why Oklahoma seeks to execute him,’ said attorney Tom Bird.

His attorneys pointed to an ‘evolving standard of decency’ when it comes to executions of the mentally ill.

‘At this moment, Oklahoma has the opportunity to exhibit courage, to follow these standards, and to be on the right side of history by prohibiting the execution of Benjamin Cole, a severely mentally ill and physically infirm person,’ they wrote.

But the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-1 last month to deny clemency and earlier in October, a district judge ruled he was competent to be executed.

Cole's attorneys argued he was living in a near catatonic state and that they had not had meaningful interaction with him for years. They said he was unable to comprehend why the state of Oklahoma wanted to kill him

Cole’s attorneys argued he was living in a near catatonic state and that they had not had meaningful interaction with him for years. They said he was unable to comprehend why the state of Oklahoma wanted to kill him

Cole died by lethal injection. He was the sixth inmate to die in Oklahoma after the state recommenced the practice in 2021

Cole died by lethal injection. He was the sixth inmate to die in Oklahoma after the state recommenced the practice in 2021

Cole's attorneys said his mental state seriously disintegrated over the course of his time in prison to the extent that he was non-functional by the time of his death

Cole’s attorneys said his mental state seriously disintegrated over the course of his time in prison to the extent that he was non-functional by the time of his death

Cole, on Thursday, became one in a series of more than 24executions Oklahoma is in the process of carrying out

Cole, on Thursday, became one in a series of more than 24executions Oklahoma is in the process of carrying out

Two appeals to the US Supreme Court were rejected also this week and so the execution went forward Thursday morning.

A separate case filed Wednesday argued that Oklahoma’s execution protocol is unconstitutional because of, among other things, a number of issues that have occurred inside the death chamber.

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling from earlier this year that the state’s execution protocol is constitutional.

‘Oklahoma’s earlier problems in the execution chamber are not enough to show that future similar problems are imminent,’ read the opinion from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Furthermore, the state and family of victim Brianna Cole argued that symptoms of Cole’s mental incompetence have been overstated.

Assistant Attorney General Tessa Henry told the clemency panel that Cole murdered his child because he was angry that her cries were interrupting his video game playing.

In a taped confession to the police, Cole admitted he caused his daughter’s fatal injuries and said he would ‘regret his actions for the rest of his life.’

Twice during his initial trial, Cole’s attorneys called for competency evaluations due to their client’s religious delusions and irrational behavior. He had not yet been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was found competent to stand trial.

Prior to his trial, prosecutors offered him a plea deal that would have resulted in a life sentence without parole, which he rejected – a decision his more recent team of attorneys called a ‘complete act of irrationality against self-interest.’ 

Prosecutors flagged that the infant had a number of injuries consistent with a history of abuse and that Cole had previously served time in prison in California for aggravated child abuse of a son from his first marriage.

Emotional testimony from the family of baby Brianna was also presented to the board.

Her aunt, Donna Daniel, said that the first time she got to see her infant niece was in her casket.

‘Do you know how horrible it is to see a nine-month-old baby in a casket?’ she asked.

‘This baby deserves justice. Our family deserves justice.’ 

source: dailymail.co.uk