Oklahoma governor denies clemency for death row inmate ahead of Thursday’s execution

By Dakin Andone, CNN

The Governor of Oklahoma has refused to grant clemency to death row inmate James Coddington, whose execution on Thursday is expected to be the first of 25 the state plans to carry out until 2024.

Coddington, 50, was sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of Albert Hale – a man he considered his friend – while battling a crack addiction. His lawyers and attorneys had asked for his sentence to be commuted to life in prison, pointing to his case as a redemption case. Coddington has long expressed sincere remorse for killing Hale, they say, and has worked to turn his life around on death row.

Coddington’s remorse, an “exemplary” criminal record and his traumatic childhood were among the mitigating factors his supporters pointed out to the Oklahoma Board of Pardons and Paroles this month. clemency recommended in his case, leaving the final decision to GOP Governor Kevin Stitt.

“After carefully considering the arguments and evidence presented by all parties to the case, Governor Kevin Stitt has rejected the Pardons and Parole Board’s recommendation for clemency for James Allen Coddington,” a brief statement said. from the governor’s office.

Emma Rolls, one of Coddington’s lawyers, said the inmate and his legal team were “deeply discouraged” by the governor’s decision, but thanked the parole board for its “careful review” of Coddington’s case. Her clemency recommendation “recognizes James’ sincere remorse and significant transformation during his years on death row,” she said.

“James is loved by many people,” Rolls said in a statement to CNN, “and he touched the hearts of many. He is a good man.”

Coddington, whose execution by lethal injection is scheduled for Thursday at 10:00 a.m. CT, will be the first of more than two dozen inmates to be put to death in a controversial series of executions Oklahoma officials plan to carry out by December 2024 — at a rate of about one man per month. Opponents and experts have criticized the plan, pointing to lingering questions about the potential innocence or mental fitness of some inmates, as well as the state. recent history of sloppy lethal injections.

But state officials have stood by their role – similar in recent years to other rounds of executions by Arkansas and the US government under the Trump administration but largely out of step with continuing decline of the death penalty in America.

“The people of Oklahoma voted overwhelmingly in 2016 to keep the death penalty as a consequence of the most heinous murders,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said in a statement on Friday. July, when the execution dates were fixed. “I am certain that justice and safety for all of us motivated this vote.”

In the weeks following the parole board meeting, calls for clemency for Coddington had increased, as he counted among his supporters a former speaker of the state House of Representatives, the former director of the Department from state corrections and even a woman he once robbed.

“James experienced his transformation on death row”, his petition for pardon submitted to the parole board said. “His sobriety, his service and his respect for the rules of the society in which he lives are documented. The man the jury found guilty and sentenced to death no longer exists.

But Hale’s family did not support clemency – although her son told the Coddington clemency hearing that he had forgiven the man who murdered his father.

“I’m here to say I forgive James Coddington,” Mitch Hale said at Coddington’s clemency hearing. according to CNN affiliate KOCO. “But my forgiveness does not release him from the consequences of his actions.”

O’Connor was “disappointed” with the board’s decision, he said in a statement at the time.

“The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board hearing is not designed to substitute for a jury trial. Juries heard testimony about Coddington’s childhood environment and his brain development during the sentencing phase of the trials,” O’Connor said. “The jury also found that Coddington was a continuing threat to society, both inside and outside the prison walls.”

“My office will continue to stand on the irrefutable facts of this case and with Albert Hale’s family and with all Oklahomans,” he added, “in opposing Coddington’s request from the governor”.

A murder for drug money

Coddington was ‘in the throes of a crack frenzy’ when he murdered Hale, whom he met while working at a salvage yard, according to the clemency petition, which calls the victim ‘one of the few people in (Coddington’s) tortured life who helped and supported him.

Coddington had long struggled with drug addiction, but ‘went into a crack frenzy’ in early March 1997 and, in search of money, stole a 7-Eleven, his petition says, but it wasn’t enough . That’s when he went to Hale’s to borrow more money.

When Coddington asked, Hale refused. He asked Coddington to leave, encouraging him to get help, the petition states. Coddington grabbed a hammer from Hale’s kitchen, punched the man in the head three or four times, stole $520 from Hale’s pocket, and drove off.

Hale was discovered by his son, alive but drenched in blood, according to court records. He died in hospital about a day later.

Coddington was arrested outside his apartment two days later – after robbing five other convenience stores, his clemency petition says. But Coddington quickly accepted full responsibility for Hale’s murder, per his request and his lawyers, “tearfully” confessing to hitting the man with the hammer and leading the police to the gun.

He allegedly pleaded guilty, his motion says, but was persuaded otherwise by his general counsel because the then-district attorney allegedly did not offer a plea deal. Coddington pleaded guilty to the theft charges, the attorney wrote in a letter attached to the motion ((Exhibit 42)), so Hale’s family never had to worry that he would be free if he one day was granted parole.

Coddington was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death, although the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later remanded the case for re-sentencing. He was again sentenced to death, and his conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal.

A troubled start to life

In begging for mercy, Coddington’s lawyers pointed in part to his childhood, arguing that his troubled upbringing, filled with neglect and abuse, set him on a difficult path that culminated in Hale’s murder.

Coddington’s mother and father – who had nine children together – were ‘not equipped to be parents’, her petition says. Both had lengthy criminal records and Coddington’s mother spent almost all of her first eight years of life – apart from an 18-month break – in prison.

Coddington’s childhood was spent between her father and grandmother, who both lived in houses described in the petition as “nearly uninhabitable”: her grandmother’s house lacked plumbing and people used the bathtub as a toilet, while her father’s house has been reported to the Department of Social Services on several occasions. The home was “not a child-friendly environment due to filth,” a DHS notice said.

Coddington was also a victim of abuse, according to her petition. His father and brothers put alcohol in his bottles, and his father beat him, leaving marks on his body and sometimes drawing blood, the petition says. The father received social assistance, but he bought alcohol instead of food, he adds, leaving the children to eat in fast food dumpsters.

Coddington’s father abandoned him and his younger brother when he was 7, and DHS took custody of the boys, the petition states. Coddington received mental health treatment at a children’s hospital and responded well, the petition says, but was later returned to his mother, whose lifestyle “erased” any progress Coddington had made. She continued to be in and out of jail, and Coddington and her brother were “constantly exposed to her meth abuse and dealing,” the petition states.

Eventually, Coddington became “immersed” in drugs himself and began to run into trouble with the law. But he tried to get help for his drug addiction, the petition says, by voluntarily entering treatment programs and successfully completing them. But his progress would evaporate when he left.

“Again, without a strong support system in place, his sobriety was short-lived,” the petition reads.

Coddington could serve others in jail, say lawyers

In the years that followed, however, Coddington worked hard to rehabilitate, say his lawyers, and “achieved and maintained sobriety, breaking the cycle of addiction that plagued his life from early childhood.”

While on Oklahoma’s death row, Coddington displayed exemplary behavior, maintained a good relationship with his family and even became a unit nurse, a “coveted position”, states his petition, which includes aid to facility operations and aid to inmates and staff. The job requires Coddington to maintain his good behavior.

Even former Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones called Coddington’s conduct “commendable” in the inmate’s clemency application. Coddington could be a good influence on other prisoners, if his life is spared, adding that the inmate has a “commitment to being productive whatever the situation before him”, Jones says Public Radio Tulsa this month.

“It’s about inmates like him really balancing themselves and being mentors to younger inmates who will probably come out at some point,” Jones said.

“I don’t think it would be in the interests of the State of Oklahoma to execute Mr. Coddington,” he said.

Coddington’s transformation was also evident for Trisha Allen, whom he robbed in 1997 while working as a convenience store clerk. Allen would not have testified in support of a death sentence had she known about Coddington’s childhood, she wrote in an affidavit to the governor shared by Coddington’s attorneys.

Over the years she has followed his case, she writes, and repeatedly tried to meet with Coddington “and see if he is a different man”.

As the execution date approached, they finally spoke on the phone and Coddington apologized. Allen forgave her, she wrote, adding that the conversation gave her a “sense of peace” and she believes “God is calling me to help Mr. Coddington receive clemency”.

“I believe in the power of redemption,” she said. “Given the opportunity, Mr. Coddington can help others in prison and lead a life of service to others.”

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