Oklahoma Watch
Nov. 13, 2023
Democracy Watch

Clemency Recommendation Rests With Stitt

Gov. Kevin Stitt visited the Oklahoma Watch offices on Oct. 13, 2022 to talk about promises he made to Oklahomans and his record as he seeks re-election on Nov. 8, 2022. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

By Keaton Ross | Democracy/Criminal Justice Reporter

Oklahoma death row prisoner Phillip Hancock’s fate rests with Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole voted 3-2 Wednesday to recommend clemency for Hancock, who has spent nearly two decades on death row and is scheduled to die at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30. An Oklahoma County jury sentenced Hancock to death for the double murder of two men at a southwest Oklahoma City home in April 2001. 

At Wednesday’s hearing, Hancock’s attorneys argued their client was defending himself from a vicious attack and was justified in killing Robert Jett and  James Lynch. They also presented a letter from former corrections department Justin Jones, who wrote that Hancock has maintained a clean prison disciplinary record and would likely maintain good behavior if granted clemency.  

The state rebuffed the self-defense claims, saying Hancock told investigators conflicting accounts of the events over several years and had an extensive violent history.  Family members of Jett and Lynch also spoke in favor of keeping the Nov. 30 execution date. 

Without explanation, the board narrowly voted in favor of  granting Hancock mercy. Stitt has less than three weeks to weigh the evidence and approve or reject the recommendation.

Stitt has granted clemency just once since January 2019, modifying Julius Jones’ death sentence to life without the possibility of parole on Nov. 18, 2021. He faced some backlash for making the decision just four hours before the scheduled execution. 

Two other death row prisoners, Bigler Stouffer and James Coddington, have received favorable clemency recommendations since Stitt took office. The governor did not accept those recommendations. 

The outcome of Hancock’s case could influence policy proposals in the 2024 legislative session, as a small but vocal group of Republican lawmakers pushes for death penalty reforms. 

Reps. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, and Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, spoke at the hearing supporting clemency for Hancock. During a press conference at the Capitol last month, the duo said Hancock’s death sentence highlights a need for more independent review of capital cases. 

Have questions, story tips or ideas? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. 

What I’m Reading This Week:

  • Stitt Surprises Lawmakers With Sports Betting Plan, McCall Sets Compact Convo with Tribal Leaders: Stitt announced his sports betting plan late on Nov. 2 while he was in Israel, triggering confusion and conversation among lobbyists and legislators who have sought some sort of path forward for years that would allow Oklahoma to legalize sports wagering. [NonDoc]
  • Ohio Voted to Establish Abortion Rights in the State Constitution. Could Oklahoma do the Same? We Are Rising is considered by many to be one of the groups most likely to coordinate a petition effort in Oklahoma, although the head of the group, Liz McLaughlin, of Oklahoma City, has said, “Our preference is to work with lawmakers to accomplish these goals.” [The Oklahoman]
  • Tribes, Oklahoma Law Enforcement Clash Over Tribal License Plate Citation: Otoe-Missouria Tribe officials accused the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety of unexpectedly altering its position on tribal vehicle registration after one of its members received a $249 ticket. The Department of Public Safety said the Highway Patrol trooper followed a 30-year legal precedent when issuing the ticket. [Oklahoma Voice]

The Top Story

Kay Johnson taught her fifth graders math on Jan. 11, 2023, at Lawton Academy for Arts and Sciences, a private school in a warehouse district. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

State Spending $4 Million To Set Up Private School Tax Credit Program

The Oklahoma Tax Commission is spending almost $4 million with a contractor to set up and administer a new private school tax credit program, an amount four times what the agency estimated in the spring when lawmakers were finalizing the policy. [Read More]

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