James Coddington expressed love for his friends, family and attorneys before being executed on Thursday, but offered no words about the man he killed or for his family.
An Oklahoma County judge sentenced Coddington to death in 2003 for the 1997 killing of Albert Hale. Coddington was high on crack cocaine when he killed Hale, his 73-year old friend and co-worker. Hale was killed with a hammer after refusing to give Coddington money for drugs, police said at the time.
Coddington’s time of death was 10:16 a.m.
Coddington, 50, was the first person to be executed in Oklahoma after a federal judge upheld the state’s lethal injection protocol this summer in a civil suit filed by death row prisoners. Following a series of mistakes, Oklahoma stopped executions in 2015 and went more than six years without putting anyone to death. But the state resumed executions last year and put four men to death in a four-month span.
The state’s Pardon and Parole Board earlier this month recommended changing Coddington’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole. But Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday denied the board’s recommendation. Coddington told the board during his clemency hearing that Hale “was my friend” and was trying to help him when Coddington killed him. He apologized to Hale’s family, and told the board “If this ends with my death, I can’t say it’s wrong.”
During the hearing, Coddington’s attorneys told the board that his family began giving him alcohol when he was an infant. By the age of 11, Coddington had begun sniffing paint and using crack cocaine.
Hale’s son, Mitch Hale, told reporters on Thursday after the execution that his father “was a great man,” and that his murder “disrupted an entire community.”
Coddington didn’t address Hale’s family before he was put to death. Hale said Coddington’s lack of remarks proved “there was no remorse.”
Still, Hale said he was able to forgive Coddington.
“My hatred wasn’t affecting him in any way,” Hale told reporters. “But it was affecting me. Forgiveness is more for the individual, not who you’re forgiving.”
Earlier this week, former Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones wrote in a column for The Oklahoman that he believed clemency was appropriate in Coddington’s case. Coddington’s addiction to drugs “was inflicted upon him” as a child by his parents and siblings, Jones wrote.
“Coddington has taken full responsibility for his crime,” Jones wrote in the column. “He has said repeatedly that he wishes he could undo his actions, but because he can’t, he will work every day to be the best person possible.”
Oklahoma has conducted the most executions per-capita in the country since executions resumed in the U.S. in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The current pace of killings is notable. Oklahoma currently has scheduled execution dates for 24 more inmates through December 2024 — a rate of about one per month. State prison records show the state has conducted 199 executions since 1915.
Critics fear Oklahoma is moving too fast, including former Gov. Brad Henry and former federal magistrate judge Andy Lester, the co-chairs of an independent commission that found fault with Oklahoma’s execution procedures in 2017.
Henry and Lester wrote in the Oklahoman that, although the Death Penalty Review Commission was “independent and bi-partisan,” “virtually none of our recommendations have been adopted.”
“Yet the state is barreling ahead with an unprecedented number of executions despite the numerous flaws in the implementation of the death penalty,” they wrote.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, who lost in the Republican primary election this summer to Tulsa Attorney Gentner Drummond, said in a statement this summer after the prisoners civil trial ended that “family members of these loved ones have waited decades for justice.”
“Oklahomans overwhelmingly voted in 2016 to preserve the death penalty as a consequence for the most heinous murders,” O’Connor said. “I’m certain that justice and safety for all of us drove that vote.”
The next person scheduled to be executed is Benjamin Cole on Oct. 20. Cole, 57, was sentenced to death for the 2002 killing of his daughter, Brianna. Cole’s attorneys have argued for years that Cole is irreparably mentally impaired, is likely schizophrenic, and is “largely catatonic.”
The Frontier reported in February that the first two men executed by Oklahoma last year — John Grant and Bigler Stouffer — had excess fluid in their lungs at the time of their executions. Stouffer died peacefully, but Grant convulsed and vomited for minutes before dying, according to media witnesses. Attorneys for the death row inmates argued in federal court this year that excess fluid was proof the men had been essentially drowned to death, but the court sided with Oklahoma, allowing the state’s lethal injection protocol to stand. Following the trial, autopsy reports were released for two other men the state put to death — Donald Grant and Gilbert Postelle. Both men also had excess fluid in their lungs.
There are now 42 men and one woman remaining on Oklahoma’s death row.