OSP file

ADRIAN O'HANLON III | Staff file photo

McALESTER, Oklahoma — A man diagnosed with schizophrenia whom defense attorneys said barely communicated with them rambled for two minutes before he became the third person executed by the state this year.

Benjamin Cole sat silent in a wheelchair during a hearing last month, and attorneys said communication was limited with the man due to mental health issues. But the man convicted and sentenced to death in the 2002 killing of his 9-month-old daughter, Brianna, in Rogers County spoke for roughly two minutes before he was executed at 10:22 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

“The Lord Jesus is my personal savior and I pray he is for you, too,” Cole said in a soft voice before offering a prayer for Oklahoma and the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied two last-chance appeals in the 24 hours before Cole became the 12th person executed in the U.S. this year.

Brianna’s uncle Dr. Bryan Young called Thursday “Justice For Brianna Day” after Cole’s execution, and said he hopes to do something in memory of the child.

“Victims are put out of pocket, out of sight, they’re never brought up,” Young said. “Anytime you hear anything regarding this, much like this execution, nothing much was said about her. It was always about him and that is not right.”

Donna Daniel, Brianna’s aunt, thanked the state for carrying out the execution and called on people to advocate for victims.

“We should not have to wait 20 years for a 9-month-old baby to get her justice,” Daniel said. “He should’ve been executed many years ago.”

Court records state Cole was playing a video game in December 2002 when his infant daughter started crying. He paused the game, bent the child in half to the point of breaking her spine and tearing her aorta, then restarted his game. The child later died at the hospital.

State and federal courts previously rejected claims and competency challenges brought in Cole's case in 2015 before Oklahoma's moratorium on executions.

Oklahoma's parole board voted 3-2 to deny him clemency in August 2015 after attorneys and a doctor described Cole's mental state as declining. The board again voted against clemency for Cole this year. Cole declined to appear for the 2015 clemency hearing, but he appeared in a competency hearing later that month and answered few questions.

Defense attorneys said Cole would crawl on the floor and refuse to talk with attorneys or doctors during visits. An assistant attorney general argued those were choices Cole made and prison staff said Cole acknowledged his execution date.

Public defenders reiterated concerns last month in a hearing over a writ of mandamus petition as Cole remained silent and slumped over in a wheelchair with handcuffs around bruised marks on his wrists. He momentarily lifted himself upright with little to no reaction when defense attorneys asked him questions.

Court filings show Cole exhibited detached and incongruent behavior, an MRI showed a lesion on his brain, and doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia.

“It is unconscionable that the state denied Ben a competency trial,” Cole’s attorney Tom Hird said in a release. “Ben lacked a rational understanding of why Oklahoma took his life today.”

Brianna’s family members said they will try to heal and return to normal.

“As normal as it can be,” Daniel said. “We have this little girl that we didn’t get to know, didn’t to see grow up, and she will always be a part of our family. But we will have to move forward.”

Workers raised the curtains in the execution chamber at 10:04 a.m. Thursday and Cole made his final statement. The acting OSP H-Unit Section Chief asked if he completed his final statement and Cole answered “yes, sir” before the injection started at nearly 10:06.

A microphone in the chamber was turned off but Cole’s mouth continued moving with his eyes closed as the first drug was administered. Cole’s eyes widened and twitched before he yawned at 10:08 a.m. then his breathing continued to become more heavy and slow.

An OSP worker performed a consciousness check at 10:11 a.m. and Cole could be heard snoring when the section chief announced he was unconscious at 10:12.

Cole’s breathing seemed to stop and his face became more pale at 10:14 before OSP Chief of Operations Justin Farris declared his time of death at 10:22.

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