OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — On January 11, 2001, Wanda Jean Allen was executed in Oklahoma for the murder of her girlfriend Gloria Leathers. Allen became the first Black woman put to death in the United States since 1954.
The 41-year-old had met Leathers in prison, where she was serving a two-year sentence for manslaughter after fatally shooting childhood friend Dedra Pettus in 1981. In her 1981 confession, Allen stated that she accidentally shot Pettus from roughly 30 feet away while returning fire from Pettus’s boyfriend. However, according to police, the forensic evidence indicated that Allen had pistol-whipped her, then shot her at point-blank range.
Allen pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge and was sentenced to four years behind bars. She served two years of the sentence.
After her release, she lived with Leathers in Oklahoma City. But the women had a volatile relationship, and on December 2, 1988, Leathers was picked up by her mother and taken to the police station in order to file a complaint against Allen.
But Allen followed them and confronted them right outside The Village Police Department — and shot Leathers in the stomach at close range.
Leathers died three days later, on December 5, 1988.
Allen was born on August 17, 1959, and grew up in a chaotic home where her family lived on public assistance.
At the age of 12, she was hit by a truck and knocked unconscious. Later in her adolescence, she was stabbed in the left temple, and it was found that her mental abilities were impaired. By age 17, she had dropped out of high school.
After Leathers’ death, the state charged Allen with first-degree murder and announced that it would seek the death penalty. Allens’ attorney attempted to argue that the killing had been in self defense — and claimed that Leathers had bragged to Allen about killing someone.
The prosecutor depicted Allen as a remorseless liar, and the jury found her guilty and sentenced her to death.
The execution was protested by death-penalty opponents including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was arrested along with two dozen other demonstrators.
Governor Frank Keating reportedly considered giving Allen a stay based on the narrow issue of whether the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had enough information regarding her education. But, in the end, Keating refused Allen’s late request for a 30-day stay, and last-minute rejections by appeals courts were rejected as well.
“I have to think about the woman she murdered in cold blood. I grieve for the families; I grieve for the dead. If a person takes another’s life premeditated, they take their own,” Keating determined.
Allen’s attorneys have pointed to her score, a 69, on an IQ test she took in the 1970s, arguing she is in the range of mental retardation. But prosecutors argued that Allen testified that she had graduated from high school and received a medical assistant certificate from a college. That testimony proved to have been inaccurate however, as Allen had dropped out of high school.
The 41-year-old reportedly raised her head and smiled before her execution at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Quoting the Bible, she said, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.” She also smiled at those gathered to watch her death, and stuck her tongue out at them. She was given a lethal injection and was pronounced dead at 9:21 P.M.
“We’re the victims, not Wanda Jean,” said Leathers’ daughter, LaToya Leathers. “We are the victims and justice has been served.”
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Main photo: Wanda Jean Allen [Oklahoma State Penitentiary]