Oklahoma Watch
Oct. 23, 2023
Democracy Watch

Republican Lawmakers Join Fight to Halt Upcoming Execution

State Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, speaks at a press conference advocating for clemency for Oklahoma death row prisoner Phillip Hancock. [Oklahoma House of Representatives]

By Keaton Ross | Democracy/Criminal Justice Reporter

Phillip Hancock admits he shot and killed two men during an altercation at a southwest Oklahoma City home on April 27, 2001.

But the 59-year-old death row prisoner maintains that an Oklahoma County jury got it wrong when they convicted him of murdering Robert Jett and James Lynch and sentenced him to death by lethal injection. 

Attorneys representing Hancock at his 2004 murder trial argued he was the victim of an unprovoked attack and was forced to shoot the men in self-defense. Jurors sided with prosecutors, who said that Hancock shot one of the men while was attempting to flee and taunted the other victim between gunshots. 

Hancock’s current legal team has tried and failed to get his conviction overturned through the appeals process, arguing his counsel during trial failed to adequately investigate and refute the prosecution’s account of events. In August 2022, District Judge Cindy Truong declined Hancock’s request to obtain new DNA testing, writing that favorable results would not be sufficient to absolve him of the crime. 

Shawn Nolan, an attorney representing Hancock, told reporters that a bevy of new evidence supports his clients’ innocence claim, including testimony from Hancock’s ex-girlfriend that she arranged the attack and a declaration from his trial lawyer that he was experiencing a drug and alcohol relapse during the trial. 

State Reps. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow and Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, stood alongside Nolan and asked the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Gov. Kevin Stitt to grant Hancock clemency ahead of his Nov. 30 execution date. His clemency hearing is set for Nov. 8 at 9 a.m. 

Oklahoma is one of a handful of states where the governor must receive a favorable recommendation from the parole board to grant clemency. Stitt has opted to stay an execution just once during his time as governor, commuting Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

“There are some in the legal circle that believe if you show your errors, everything blows up and everything becomes a mistake and you have to go retry every case,” McDugle said. “And that’s just not the case. I think people would find more faith in the State of Oklahoma if we stood up and said we admit our error in an era that was long before us.” 

McDugle is pushing for lawmakers to enact a death penalty moratorium in the upcoming legislative session, arguing that the state doesn’t give death row prisoners sufficient opportunity to present innocence claims. As I reported on Oct. 2, that could prove a tall task in a state that has historically supported capital punishment. 

Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued a statement Thursday affirming Hancock’s death sentence, noting witness testimony that Hancock taunted and chased one of the men before he shot and killed them. 

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

What I’m Reading This Week:

  • With Lawmaker’s Cousin Voting, Board on Legislative Compensation Keeps Pay Flat: After 55 minutes, four failed motions and a discussion about whether inflationary conditions are relevant when considering elected officials’ pay, the Board on Legislative Compensation voted 5-3 to keep rank-and-file lawmaker salaries flat. Legislative leaders will receive a 5% bump in certain stipends. [NonDoc]
  • State’s High Court Punts Case Challenging Oklahoma Lawmakers’ Tribal Compact Extensions: In a 6-3 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court announced Monday that it would not hear a case brought by a conservative nonprofit against House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. The lawsuit questioned whether lawmakers violated state law. The court did not issue an opinion explaining why it refused to consider the case. [Oklahoma Voice]
  • Oklahoma GOP Lawmakers Continue Fight Against DEI Initiatives in Colleges, Universities: Standridge said DEI was an ideology that was being forced down the throats of young people. The senator’s statement, however, seems to run counter to state demographics. During the hearing, Oklahoma Chancellor of Higher Education Allison Garrett told lawmakers non-white students account for about 46% of the undergraduate student enrollment at state higher education institutions. [The Oklahoman]

The Top Story

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa on June 20, 2020.

Trump Dominates Early Presidential Fundraising in Oklahoma

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