In the months preceding Oklahoma statehood, 112 elected delegates met in Guthrie to craft the Oklahoma Constitution. The Constitutional Convention began on November 20, 1906, and formally adjourned on March 15, 1907. In those five months, delegates prepared the framework that would become Oklahoma’s state government. On September 17, 1907, seventy-one percent of voters approved the Constitution. This vote paved the way for President Theodore Roosevelt to sign documents on November 16, 1907, officially declaring Oklahoma the forty-sixth state.
With approximately 50,000 words, Oklahoma’s Constitution is one of the longest state constitutions in the nation, specifically enumerating rights of the people and detailing powers of the state. This included dividing the government into three separate departments: the legislative, executive and judicial. Article VII of the Oklahoma Constitution provided for the creation of the Criminal Court of Appeals by the state legislature. The First Legislature passed “an act creating a Criminal Court of Appeals, and defining the jurisdiction of said court.” Governor Charles Haskell signed the bill into law on May 18, 1908 and appointed the first judges to sit on the Criminal Court of Appeals in September 1908.
Those judges are depicted in this portrait by artist Mike Wimmer. From the left are Judges Thomas H. Doyle of Perry, Henry M. Furman of Ada and H.G. Baker of Muskogee. Doyle’s biographic information appears with his individual portrait on page 18. Furman was born in 1850 in Society Hill, South Carolina and studied law in New Orleans before moving to Texas where he was elected as a county attorney in 1876. He practiced law in both Texas and Colorado before settling in Indian Territory in 1895. Furman became a formidable criminal lawyer and participated in several historic cases, including the first trial held in United States District Court for the Southern District of Indian Territory. Furman defended “Little Bud” Watkins, a young man of Chickasaw descent accused of killing his former employer, a prominent cattleman. Watkins was found guilty and sentenced to hang, but Furman appealed and the case was reversed and remanded for a new trial. In the second trial, Watkins was again convicted and this time given a life sentence. Furman again appealed and along with reversal, was successful in getting a change of venue to Paris, Texas for the third trial. The Paris jury acquitted Watkins, who was then released after six years in federal custody.
As a jurist, Furman applied equal passion to hearing cases, a challenge for a new court that instantly inherited all pending appeals from the courts of both Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory. In the years immediately following statehood, the Criminal Court of Appeals issued more than 300 published opinions annually. In addition, Furman publicly clashed with Oklahoma’s second governor, Lee Cruce. Cruce granted clemency to nearly every death row inmate who applied for a pardon during his term, 22 in all. Furman saw this as a breach of executive duty and a violation of the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution.
He took the Governor to task in a 1913 opinion, Henry v. State, “As this is a capital conviction, and as the Governor’s action presents an absolute bar to the enforcement of law in Oklahoma, we cannot, without a failure to discharge our duty, omit to take judicial notice of, and pass upon, this position of the Governor, as unpleasant as it is for us to do so. If we remained silent, the Governor and the people would have the right to think that the courts acquiesced in the position which he has assumed, when as a matter of fact nothing is further from the truth. We therefore cannot avoid deciding this matter.” Furman went on to call the Governor’s position utterly untenable and urged him to refrain from interfering with the law and respect the independence of the judiciary. Furman died in office on April 10, 1916, but outlasted Governor Cruce who left office in January 1915. The third judge in the painting, H.G. Baker served less than a year on the court before resigning. His replacement, Thomas Owen was appointed in June 1909.
In 1959, the Legislature changed the court’s name to the Court of Criminal Appeals. This painting was originally unveiled in March 1999, by then-Presiding Judge Reta Strubhar. Appointed in 1993, Strubhar was the first woman to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals. The portrait originally hung in the Court of Criminal Appeals Capitol Courtroom and was relocated to their new courtroom in the Oklahoma Judicial Center in June 2011.
Artist Mike Wimmer earned his bachelor of fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and his masters of fine arts from the University of Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut. More than two dozen of his commissioned historical paintings and portraits grace the Oklahoma State Capitol Building. Wimmer also illustrates books for children, several of which have been recognized with awards. His most recent, George: George Washington Our Founding Father, won the Oklahoma Book Award for illustration in 2013. Wimmer’s work has been exhibited at the Gilcrease Art Museum in Tulsa, the Mabee-Gerrer Museum in Shawnee and at the Oklahoma City Art Museum. His illustrations were also featured in an exhibit called “Exploring the Great Outdoors” which opened at the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C. before traveling to other venues around the world.
Source: “History Unveiled,” The Oklahoman, March 9, 1999; Oklahoma Constitution, Article 4, section 1, Article 7, section 1; Oklahoma State Senate Artwork oksenate.gov accessed May 13, 2013; Constitutional Convention, Oklahoma Constitution, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture; Artist provided biography.