Gov. Kevin Stitt has three weeks to decide whether to grant mercy to a death row prisoner who claims he acted in self-defense.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Phillip Dean Hancock in a 3-2 vote on Wednesday.
The board has recommended clemency in four cases since the state resumed executions in 2021 after a six-year moratorium. Stitt has only granted clemency once, in the case of Julius Jones, who was convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones’ sentence was commuted to life without parole.
A spokeswoman for Stitt told The Frontier the Governor’s office will weigh information from the prosecution, defense, and the victims’ families before making a decision.
Hancock was convicted in 2004 for the 2001 double-murder of Robert Lee Jett, 37, and James Vincent Lynch, 58, in Southwest Oklahoma City. Hancock, 59, claims that he killed the men after Jett threatened him with a metal bar and demanded he get into a cage.
Hancock said his only means of survival was to get a pistol that was tucked into Jett’s pants and shoot both men.
“I was suddenly terrified for my life. I have no doubt they would have killed me,” he said.
But Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lockett told the Pardon and Parole Board that Hancock hasn’t given consistent statements about what led up to the fatal shooting. An eyewitness testified at the 2004 trial that Hancock was the aggressor. Jett also had injuries to his back, which were inconsistent with a self-defense scenario, Lockett said.
“Nothing between then and now has made his claim any more credible,” Lockett said.
The board also heard from Jett’s family members. Ryan Jett told the board his brother didn’t deserve to die.
“He did not deserve to be hunted down in the backyard and killed like a dog,” Ryan said.
Republican State Representatives Kevin McDugle and Justin Humphrey both attended the hearing and backed Hancock’s self-defense claims.
Humphrey said he hopes Stitt will look at the facts of the case and agree that clemency is warranted.
“I continue to support the death penalty but believe that we must use it appropriately, ” Humphrey said. “I hope the people of Oklahoma agree that self-defense should not be a case where the death penalty is used.”
Hancock’s execution is slated for Nov. 30. Unless Stitt grants clemency, Hancock will be the 11th person to die by lethal injection since Oklahoma resumed executions in October 2021.
Oklahoma has three more executions scheduled for 2024.
James Ryder’s execution is set for February, but will likely be delayed by a pending legal challenge. Ryder has a trial date set for March to determine whether he is competent for execution. His attorneys have argued that Ryder suffers from severe mental illness and should not be put to death. Ryder was sentenced to death for the 1999 killing of Daisy Hallum, who was bludgeoned to death in Pittsburg County. He was also sentenced to life-without-parole for fatally shooting Sam Hallum.
Michael DeWayne Smith is scheduled to be executed on April 4 for the 2002 murders of Janet Moore and Sarath “Babu” Pulluru in Oklahoma City.
Wade Greely Lay’s execution is set for June 6. Lay was sentenced to death for fatally shooting a security guard in 2004 during an attempted bank robbery in Tulsa. Lay has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. A trial is scheduled for May to determine whether he is too mentally ill to be executed.
Oklahoma executions since 2021
Oct. 28, 2021: John Marion Grant
Dec. 9, 2021: Bigler Jobe Stouffer II
Jan. 27, 2022: Donald Anthony Grant
Feb. 17, 2022: Gilbert Postelle
Aug. 25, 2022: James Allen Coddington
Oct. 20, 2022: Benjamin Cole
Nov. 17, 2022: Richard Fairchild
Jan. 12, 2023: Scott Eizember
July 20, 2023: Jemaine Cannon
Sept 21, 2023: Anthony Sanchez