Oklahoma’s attorney general believes death row inmates are eligible to receive a commutation hearing, according to a letter his office issued Tuesday that refers to a previous attorney general opinion on the matter.
Earlier this month the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to ask Attorney General Mike Hunter if death row inmates can seek a commutation hearing in addition to a clemency hearing, which is scheduled in the final weeks before a scheduled execution date.
Hunter’s office said it had not yet received the request from the board, but preemptively sent a letter on Tuesday saying that issue had already been settled by former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who “found that the Pardon and Parole Board has the authority to recommend, and the Governor has the authority to grant, commutations of the sentence of Oklahoma inmates” sentenced to death, according to Hunter’s letter, which was obtained by The Frontier.
Hunter’s letter comes on the same day The Frontier reported board member Allen McCall sent multiple emails to Steven Bickley, the board’s executive director, threatening to accuse him of unspecified criminal activities if he didn’t seek an opinion from Hunter.
Attorneys for the parole board and the governor both said they believed a commutation request could be made by an inmate sentenced to death, in addition to a clemency hearing.
But McCall demanded the issue be brought to Hunter or he would “request to appear in front of the multi-county grand jury ASAP before you and your anti-death penalty buddies can cause any more pain and heartache to victim’s families,” according to an email he wrote Bickley.
After The Frontier’s story was published, attorneys for Julius Jones asked Hunter not to weigh because of the threatening emails McCall sent.
“What is at play here is politics, pure and simple,” Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing Jones, said in a statement on Tuesday. “One board member has used threats and coercion to try to circumvent the law, and he is hoping Attorney General Hunter will provide some kind of flimsy legal cover to justify, once again, Julius from publicly presenting his case. If that happens, it will be a terrible injustice.”
In 2002, Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
Jones has maintained his innocence and has received growing support for his conviction to be overturned. A documentary series raised questions about his conviction and former Thunder player Russell Westbrook recently wrote the governor on Jones’ behalf.
“[Jones’] conviction was tainted by a deeply flawed process,” Westbrook wrote in his letter. “As more details come to light regarding his situation, I join with many voices to express sadness and profound concern regarding his conviction and death sentence.”