Oklahoma executed Phillip Dean Hancock on Thursday morning for the 2001 double-murder of Robert Jett, 37, and James Lynch, 57, in southwest Oklahoma City.
The execution was delayed about an hour while Hancock, strapped to a gurney, waited while the process was held up for legal reasons and while awaiting a chaplain to arrive.
Hancock’s legal team asked to postpone the execution less than an hour before it set to begin Thursday morning. But Steven Harpe, director of the Department of Corrections said it was “kind of late in the game.”
Harpe described Hancock’s demeanor as entertaining and in good spirits.
As the curtains lifted, Hancock smiled and said, “‘where are my enemies at,’” according to the Associated Press reporter Jake Bleiberg, who witnessed the execution.
Hancock looked at Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond and ranted about his office not supporting the claim that he killed Jett and Lynch in self-defense, according to media witnesses. Hancock was unconscious at 11:23 a.m. and pronounced dead at 11:29 a.m. Drummond attended the execution but did not speak to reporters. In an emailed statement, he said that “justice has been served” for the murders of Jett and Lynch.
“I hope today brings a measure of peace to the families of the men whose lives were tragically cut short by Phillip Dean Hancock,” Drummond said in the email.
Before he died, Hancock expressed hope that the state would exonerate him after his death, according to media witnesses.
After the execution, Lynch’s niece read a letter from the victim’s youngest sister, Caroline Thomas, who wrote that she was believed justice had been served according to God’s will.
“This 22 year nightmare can finally be laid to rest. I have prayed for his salvation for nearly two decades,” Thomas wrote. “And I can only hope that he chose to get his soul right with God before his window of opportunity closed for eternity.”
Hancock claimed he killed Jett and Lynch after they tried to hold him against his will. Hancock said he was afraid the men would kill him. Shawn Tarp, the only eyewitness to the murders, testified at trial that Jett ordered Hancock into a metal cage before the shooting. Hancock grabbed a pistol that was tucked into Jett’s pants and shot both men.
Lynch had bullet wounds to his torso, face and left hand, according to records. Jett had wounds to his upper right back, right elbow, and side and right knee. Jett ran toward the backyard to escape after being shot in the back. Hancock followed him.
Jett’s last words were, “I’m going to die,” according to Assistant Oklahoma Attorney General Joshua Lockett.
“Yes, you are,” Hancock reportedly responded before fatally shooting Jett.
Hancock admitted to killing Jett and Lynch but claimed he acted in self-defense.
“I was suddenly terrified for my life. I have no doubt they would have killed me,” Hancock said at a clemency hearing via video conference in front of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Nov. 8.
Lockett argued that if Hancock had only been trying to defend himself, he wouldn’t have chased Jett to the backyard and shot him again. Hancock also had a history of claiming self-defense. In 1982, Hancock shot another man dead and claimed it was in self-defense. He was convicted of manslaughter.
Oklahoma state lawmakers Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, and Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, spoke in support of Hancock’s self-defense claims at the hearing. McDugle, who has become something of an anti-death penalty advocate in recent years, has supported Hancock’s self-defense claim, and told The Frontier on Thursday “I think it’s a shame that Phillip Hancock was put to death for that reason here in Oklahoma.”
The Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 to recommend that Gov. Kevin Stitt grant Hancock clemency. Hancock’s execution marks the third time Stitt has rejected the board’s clemency recommendation since Oklahoma began carrying out executions again in 2021.
Hancock’s attorney Shawn Nolan said in a press release after the execution that Stitt “unconscionably” decided not to halt the execution. He further said he was sad that Oklahoma executed Hancock for defending himself from a vicious attack.
The Oklahoma chapter of the criminal justice reform group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty issued a statement Thursday criticizing Stitt’s decision not to grant clemency. Brett Farley, the state coordinator for the group, called Hancock’s execution “another gross miscarriage of justice.”
“Oklahoma’s practice of capital punishment continues to be riddled with problems, including the inability of the state to prevent the execution of innocent people,” Farley said in a press release.
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
Sep. 21, 2023: Anthony Sanchez
Nov. 30, 2023: Phillip Hancock