Okla. man on death row for almost 40 years executed for raping, murdering 7-year-old stepdaughter

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun28,2024

McALESTER, Okla. (TCN) — A 66-year-old man was executed by lethal injection at a state prison Thursday after having spent nearly four decades on death row for killing his former stepdaughter.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office confirmed Richard Rojem Jr.’s execution Thursday, June 27, saying he had been sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping, and murdering 7-year-old Layla Dawn Cummings in 1984. The Oklahoman reports Rojem was pronounced dead at 10:16 a.m. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board rejected Rojem’s request for clemency on June 17.

Rojem appealed the sentencing twice, according to The Oklahoman. He has been incarcerated since 1985.

Rojem received the death penalty for the murder charge, but he was also sentenced to 1,000 years in prison for first-degree rape and kidnapping.

According to one of Rojem’s appellate court opinions from 1998, Cummings was taken from the apartment where she lived with her mother and brother sometime between 10 p.m. on July 6, 1984, and 1:15 a.m. on July 7, 1984. A neighbor reportedly contacted the girl’s mother at work and said she had been abducted. A farmer found Cummings’ body on the morning of July 7.

The medical examiner determined Cummings’ cause of death was two stab wounds to the neck, which also severed an artery and pierced her lung. She reportedly sustained stab wounds and bruising to her genital area, which indicated “forced rape.” Investigators located condom wrappers near her body.

The court opinion said Rojem “was connected to the offenses by a significant amount of circumstantial evidence,” including that he divorced Cummings’ mother two months before the killing and knew that the victim’s apartment door was broken. A beer cup with his fingerprint was reportedly found near Cummings’ apartment, as well as tire trucks at the scene that matched his car. Rojem had been at a bar on the evening of June 6, and the cup at the scene reportedly matched the one given to him at the bar.

Investigators reportedly found a condom wrapper in Rojem’s trash can that matched the condom next to Cummings’ body. The court document says that specific brand of condom was sold in a bathroom dispenser at the bar where he was that night.

Rojem told investigators he drove to a gas station about 25 miles away and got there at 1:10 a.m. on July 7. He then said he went to his girlfriend’s house and home.

According to the appeal, Rojem argued Cummings “went voluntarily with him the morning of July 7, 1984,” but the judges said that “would not prevent a conviction of kidnapping.”

The Oklahoman reports Cummings’ mother said in a statement, “We are grateful today for justice served and the peace of knowing that Richard Rojem can never hurt us or any other person again.”

Attorney General Gentner Drummond said, “Justice for Layla Cummings was finally served this morning with the execution of the monster responsible for her rape and murder. Layla’s family has endured unimaginable suffering for almost 40 years. My prayer is that today’s action brings a sense of comfort to those who loved her.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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