Meet Brenda Andrew; Oklahoma's only woman on death row

OKLAHOMA CITY – Former Sunday School teacher Brenda Andrew is the only woman on Oklahoma’s death row.

In 2004, she was convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the Nov. 2001 shooting death of her husband, Rob Andrew, according to published reports.  Jurors recommended the death penalty.

Brenda Andrew, Oklahoma Department of Corrections mugshot (2017)

The Court of Criminal Appeals sets execution dates and at this time, the court has not announced a date for Andrew’s sentence to be carried out, said Josh Ward, Department of Corrections spokesman.

Andrew’s lover and fellow Sunday School teacher, James Pavatt, was convicted in 2003 of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to death.  The Court of Criminal Appeals set his execution date for July 11, 2024.   

A month before the Nov. 2001 shooting, Rob Andrew reported to police his vehicle brake line had been cut, and he believed Pavatt, his insurance agent, and his wife were trying to kill him for insurance money proceeds, according to published reports.

The 39-year-old ad executive was fatally shot in the family’s garage on Nov. 20, 2001, while picking up his children for child visitation. Instead of taking her two children to their father’s funeral, Andrew and Pavatt head to Mexico where they spent almost three months on the run.  The couple was taken into custody at the Mexico border when they tried to reenter the United States.

Founded in 1990, the Death Penalty Information Center is a national non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.

Women are rarely sentenced to death in the United States and executions of women are even more rare, according to Death Penalty Information Center data. Researchers have suggested that women who are sentenced to death are often perceived as breaking gender norms.

Andrew was known for her habitual affairs.  Her tight-fitting clothes and cleavage exposing shirts were documented during her trial, according to published reports. She had filed for divorce weeks earlier and trial testimony indicated the motivation for the shooting was insurance proceeds, according to published reports.

Oklahoma has the second-highest state incarceration rate for women in the United States. The Sooner state incarcerates 226 female prisoners, according to 2022 data by Fair Punishment, a legal resouce website. Arkansas is ranked 17th, Missouri is ranked 26th and Kansas is ranked 33rd.

Oklahoma has put four women to death since 1903.

Dora Wright, a black woman, died by hanging in 1903 when Oklahoma was Indian Territory. She was convicted of fatally beating and torturing 7-year-old Annie Williams, a white child.  The victim was purported to be Wright’s niece, published reports state.  

Since Oklahoma was not a state, Wright’s fate was in President Theodore Roosevelt’s hands.

Roosevelt was quoted in newspapers saying, “If that woman was mean enough to do a thing like that, she ought to have the nerve to meet her punishment.”

Almost a century passed and in 2001, Oklahoma executed three women in the same year.

Wanda Jean Allen, 41, a black woman, was executed on January 2001.  She was the first black woman to be executed in the United States since 1954. She was convicted of killing her female girlfriend.

Marilyn Kay Plantz, 40, a white woman, was executed in May 2001 for her role in the killing of her husband, Jim Plantz,  for insurance money.

Lois Nadean Smith, 61, a white woman, was executed in December 2001 for the murder of her son’s ex-girlfriend. “Mean Nadean” was convicted of torturing and killing Cindy Bailee, 21.

Currently, there are 40 inmates on Oklahoma’s Death Row and most of the death-row prisoners’ sentences are to be carried out through December 2024, according to the Department of Corrections website.  

The state has executed 199 men and three women between 1915 and 2022 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, according to the state’s Department of Corrections website.

The last execution by electrocution took place in 1966.

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