Oklahoma executes man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing 7-year-old girl in 1984

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma executed a man Thursday who was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing his 7-year-old former stepdaughter in 1984.

Richard Rojem, 66, received a three-drug lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester and was declared dead at 10:16 a.m., prison officials said. Rojem, who had been in prison since 1985, was the longest-serving inmate on Oklahoma's death row.

When asked if he had any last words, Rojem, who was strapped to a gurney and had an IV in his tattooed left arm, said: “I don't. I've said my goodbyes.”

He looked briefly toward several witnesses who were inside a room next to the death chamber before the first drug, the sedative midazolam, began to flow. He was declared unconscious about 5 minutes later, at 10:08 a.m., and stopped breathing at about 10:10 a.m.

A spiritual adviser was in the death chamber with Rojem during the execution.

Rojem had 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 on July 7, 1984. She had been stabbed to death.

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

Rojem’s attorneys argued at a clemency hearing this month 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.

In a statement read by Attorney General Gentner Drummond after the execution, Layla’s mother, Mindy Lynn Cummings, said: "We remember, honor and hold her forever in our hearts as the sweet and precious 7-year-old she was.

“Today marks the final chapter of justice determined by three separate juries for Richard Rojem's heinous acts nearly 40 years ago when he stole her away like the monster he was.”

Rojem, who testified at the hearing via a video link from prison, said he wasn’t responsible for the girl’s death. The panel voted 5-0 not to recommend to the governor that Rojem’s life be spared.

“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.”

Prosecutors said there was plenty of evidence 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.

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.

Oklahoma, which has executed more inmates per capita than any other state in the nation since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, has now carried out 13 executions since resuming lethal injections in October 2021 following a nearly six-year hiatus resulting from problems with executions in 2014 and 2015.


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