© 2024 Public Radio Tulsa
800 South Tucker Drive
Tulsa, OK 74104
(918) 631-2577

A listener-supported service of The University of Tulsa
classical 88.7 | public radio 89.5
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Listen for LIVE Republican National Convention coverage from NPR tonight from 8 - 10pm on KWGS 89.5 FM

Oklahoma panel denies clemency for man convicted in 1984 killing of 7-year-old girl

The front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, home to the state's execution chamber. From file.
Chris Polansky / KWGS News
The front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, home to the state's execution chamber. From file.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board on Monday unanimously denied clemency for a death row inmate convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 7-year-old girl in 1984, clearing the way for him to be executed later this month.

Richard Rojem, 66, denied responsibility for killing his former stepdaughter, Layla Cummings. The child’s mutilated and partially clothed body was discovered in a field in rural Washita County near the town of Burns Flat. She had been stabbed to death.

Rojem has exhausted his appeals and is scheduled to receive a lethal injection on June 27. His attorneys argued that he is innocent and that DNA evidence taken from the girl’s fingernails did not link him to the crime.

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

Fisher urged the board to recommend clemency to the governor so that Rojem could be spared execution and spend the rest of his life in prison. Gov. Kevin Stitt cannot commute Rojem’s death sentence without a clemency recommendation from the board.

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

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Crabb said Rojem was previously convicted of raping two teenage girls in Michigan and was angry at Layla Cummings because she reported that he sexually abused her, leading to his divorce from the girl’s mother and his return to prison for violating his parole.

Rojem, who appeared via a video link from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, denied that he was responsible for raping and killing Layla.

“I wasn’t a good human being for the first part of my life, and I don’t deny that,” said Rojem, handcuffed and wearing a red prison uniform. “But I went to prison. I learned my lesson and I left all that behind.”

A Washita County jury convicted Rojem in 1985 after just 45 minutes of deliberations. His previous death sentences were twice overturned by appellate courts because of trial errors. A Custer County jury ultimately handed him his third death sentence in 2007.Layla Cummings mother did not appear before the pardon’s board, but in a letter to the panel last month she urged them to deny clemency.

“Everything she might have been was stolen from her one horrific night,” Mindy Lynn Cummings wrote. “She never got to be more than the precious seven year old that she was. And so she remains in our hearts — forever 7.”

SEAN MURPHY
Murphy is the statehouse reporter for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City. He has covered Oklahoma news and politics since 1996.