Showing posts with label Oklahoma. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oklahoma. Show all posts

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Oklahoma: 4 Commutations for LWOP

Gov. Mary Fallin
NewsOK reports Gov. Mary Fallin has commuted the sentences of four Oklahoma inmates "serving life without parole for drug offenses." The effect is that the men now have "the potential" to "one day to be paroled."

59-year old William Dufries was convicted for carrying 67 pounds of marijuana in a recreational vehicle 14 years ago.  36-year old Michael Randolph, is also a nonviolent drug offender serving a life sentence.  76-year old K.O. Cooper, convicted in 2012, "is believed to be the oldest inmate serving life without parole for drug-related crimes in Oklahoma." Kevin Martin and Jesse Rose (55 and 58) also had their sentences commuted. According to NewsOK:
There are still 52 inmates in Oklahoma serving life without parole for drug offenses, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmate database. A change in Oklahoma law in 2015 did away with mandatory life sentencing for drug trafficking after two previous felony drug convictions, but the new law was not retroactive. Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, has authored a bill under consideration in the Legislature this session that would allow nonviolent offenders sentenced to life without parole to have their sentences modified after 10 years in prison. Senate Bill 689 has passed preliminary votes in the House and Senate but final legislative action remains to be taken. 
See full story here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oklahoma: Larry Yarbrough

Larry Yarbrough has been married to the same woman for 46 years. They have 5 children and 13 grandchildren. According to ALTERNET, once upon a time, Larry and his wife owned and operated "a popular BBQ restaurant in Kingfisher where he was known for giving back to his community."

But Yarbrough - who declares his innocence (see video above) - was "automatically" sentenced to life without parole in 1997, after committing his sixth felony. He had a single ounce of cocaine on him, but also had two prior felony convictions for marijuana distribution and receiving stolen property.

Some say the trial was "marred by charges of jury tampering, destruction of evidence, blatant racism and good-old-boy nepotism. Even those on the jury have spoken out on his behalf." Oklahoma State Senator Constance N. Johnson has been a vocal support of clemency on behalf of Yarbrough. In 2011, she said:
“We have murderers, rapists and child molesters getting paroled, but here is a husband, father, grandfather, business owner and community servant who could spend half his life in prison costing the state millions of dollars ... We have people serving less time for greater amounts of drugs than what Mr. Yarbrough was convicted of—an ounce of cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes. Surely 17 years is a long enough punishment for his crime. In the name of justice and common sense, I urge Governor Fallin to accept the Board’s recommendations.”
Attorney General Scott Pruitt opposed the State's Pardon and Parole Board, because:
“[Yarbrough was] a drug trafficker who pumped LSD, cocaine and marijuana into a community for more than 10 years [and] is not someone who made one bad choice and deserves a second chance; he is a five-time felon who was given multiple chances to do the right thing and continued to bring drugs, theft and intimidation into an Oklahoma community.”
Governor Mary Fallin denied a request for commutation of sentence, in 2011, after it was recommended by the Board in a 3-2 vote. But Fallin granted Yarbrough executive clemency on March 18, 2016. During his 22 years in prison, he "never had a single write-up" and "received commendations from the Department of Corrections and nonprofits for training guide dogs for the blind and disabled." It is reported that the medical cost "of taking care of Larry" - last year - "was estimated to be over a million dollars." See full story here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Oklahoma: 2 Commutations

Jennifer Palmer of The Oklahoman reports Governor Fallin "has approved shortening the prison sentences of two state inmates — the first commutations since 2012." The commutations were recommended by the State's Pardon and Parole Board.

One goes to 53 year old drug offender Donnie Daniel, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Daniel has served 18 years now and is terminally ill. The sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole.

The second recipient is 60 year old William Wood Jr., another drug offender whose 117-year-sentence "will be shortened to time served." Wood has been in prison for 10 years and still "has to serve an 81-year sentence for possession of a controlled dangerous substance plus one year for drug paraphernalia." See story here.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Oklahoma: Commutations Requests

The Daily Oklahoman has a intriguing story out on three applications for commutation of sentence that Gov. Mary Fallin will be considering. The State's Pardon and Parole Board has recommended that commutations be granted in all three cases. It is also reported that a commutation has not been granted in the State since 2012!

Donnie Daniel is serving life without parole under the state's mandatory three strikes law. He has served 18 years and the Board has unanimously voted to recommend his sentence be reduced to allow him the possibility of parole. Daniel claims he is terminally ill.

William Wood Jr., an army veteran and former minister, is serving a 199 year sentence for drug crime. He has been in prison for 10 years and never been disciplined. The board recommended that his sentence be commuted to 20 years by a vote of 4-1.

Michael Tippin is serving a life sentence for manufacturing methamphetamine and burglary. The Board also recommended that his sentence be reduced by a vote of 4-1.

It reported that the Board has a backlog of 166 applications. 12 were granted a hearing. Eight of them received unanimous no votes. One was Tondalo Hall, a mother of three serving a 30-year sentence "for permitting child abuse, while the abuser was convicted but released at his trial after two years in jail." Hall claims she was beaten by the children's father as well. See full story here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Oklahoma: Change for Commutations?

News OK reports that, according to the State's attorney general, the State's Pardon and Parole Board "acted improperly when it approved new eligibility requirements for inmates applying for a shorter sentence." Consequently, the Board "withdrew the new policy" and will regroup to create "new eligibility parameters for commutation." The current process "can take months" and it requires the approval of the Legislature or governor.

It is also observed that the 5 member Board is "relatively new." Its supposedly flawed proposal:
... opened up commutation to more nonviolent offenders. The board wanted to allow nonviolent offenders who had served at least 36 months the ability to apply and require violent offenders to serve half of 85 percent of their sentence before applying. Nonviolent offenders serving life without parole would have been required to serve 22 years before applying, and violent offenders sentenced to life without parole would have to first serve 38 years. At the time, offenders applying for commutation were required to have 20 years remaining on their sentence. 
Now, the Board "will consider commuting the sentences of 12 inmates on Wednesday," among them a mother of three serving 30 years for "enabling" child abuse by her former boyfriend. He actually admitted to his offense and served a mere two years in jail.

News OK reports that there have been no commutation granted in OK "in more than three years" and in June, the Board "addressed" a "backlog" of commutation requests by "whittling down 166 applications to 16." Twelve were granted hearings, and the other four are to be considered at a later date. See full story here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Oklahoma: Paperwork Disaster

In 1981, David Johns and two other men robbed and fatally shot a 68-year-old retired grocer, in front of his home. There was a dispute about who actually pulled the trigger, but Johns and another were convicted of murder.

It is said that, as a prisoner, Johns has "worked his odd jobs, obeyed the rules, and tried to keep his head down" for two decades. Indeed, he has zero disciplinary marks over the last decade. When Johns presented his case before the State's five-member parole board it recommended parole four times. Finally, in 2010, Gov. Brad Henry also approved. It looked like it was a done deal.

Then, the state official charged with filing the necessary paperwork failed to do so. In stepped Henry's successor, Mary Fallin and, amazingly, Gov. Fallin, reversed Henry's decision!

In 2013, the parole board unanimously recommended release for the 55-year old Johns, once again, but Gov. Fallin rejected the recommendation. See story here.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Oklahoma: Mercy Recommended

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has recommended clemency for a man scheduled to be executed later this month. Thirty-nine year old Brian Darrell Davis was convicted for raping and murdering his girlfriend's mother. But the Board, in a 4-1 vote, has recommended that his sentence be commuted to "life in prison without the possibility of parole."

Davis is said to have "taken responsibility" for his actions, and has apologized. But Assistant Attorney General Robert Whittaker is reported to be "disappointed" with the Board's decision. Attorney General Scott Pruitt also denounced the decision as "incomprehensible" because Davis "does not deserve our pity or clemency." See full story here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Oklahoma: Voting on Clemency

An editorial at the Norman Transcript argues Oklahomans "have an opportunity to show they are smart, sensible and recognize savings." How? By "removing the governor from the pardon and parole process for nonviolent offenders." How? By supporting SQ 762.

The piece notes that the Oklahoma Academy believes in doing so because:
(1.) it improves public safety by giving the governor the proper time to review those convicted of violent, heinous crimes, (2.) more of the governor’s time is devoted to more pressing public issues in Oklahoma and (3.) nonviolent offenders sitting in prison waiting for the governor to drop other important tasks to approve their parole costs taxpayers millions of dollars. 
The Academy believes Oklahoma "has a need to address its criminal justice and corrections system" and that the Pardon and Parole Board "needs to be examined and improved." More specifically, it calls doe a "full-time" Board. See full editorial here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oklahoma: Kicking Cop Pardoned

KOKH Fox 25 reports Police Sergeant John Blumenthal admitted, in 2008, that he "kicked a homeless man in the face" who was "already handcuffed." Three years later, Blumenthal sought a pardon and received a positive recommendation from the State's Pardon and Parole Board and a grant from the Governor!

It is also reported that "no one from the board or the governor’s office notified the Oklahoma County District Attorney or Police Chief Bill City when considering the pardon." Now a District Attorney says the information upon which the grant was based was "not entirely true." Blumenthal, for example, told the Pardon and Parole Board his foot "made contact with the cheek of the subject accidentally.” See full story here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Solomon Hotema's Witch Hunt

Throughout his life, Solomon Hotema practiced law, served as a judge and discharged his duties “in an able and conscientious manner.” According to the Annual Report of the Attorney General for 1903, he was “a man of wealth and high standing among his people” (the Choctaw Indians) and “very charitable.” Yes, Hotema led an “exemplary” life, but for one small flaw.

The Annual Report noted, “for many years” he had been in the habit of “getting drunk.” A judge had also observed that, while drunk, Hotema “manifested a disposition to be combative and also a disposition to use deadly weapons.” For example, on the morning of April 14, 1899, Hotema threw back a few stiff ones and went to the house of one Vina Coleman. In the past, Hotema had “always been on most friendly terms” with Coleman. But, on this morning, Hotema was “more or less under the influence of liquor.” So, he took Coleman’s life with a single shotgun blast. A small child nearby was also injured. A startled fifteen-year old attempted to flee the premises. But, Hotema spotted him, then shot and “badly wounded” the boy. The merciless gunman then hopped on a horse and rode away from the Coleman residence. As he approached a second home, Hotema shot and killed a man. With more buckshot and plenty of time, he rode to a third house and shot and killed another woman.

Hotema’s trial was reported to have “caused a big stir” throughout “a large portion of the country” and, at trial, his lawyers certainly had their hands full. They quickly agreed to argue that their client was not guilty by reason of insanity. But the position of the defense was not simply based on the fact that Hotema was intoxicated at the time of the murders, or that he had a ten-year habit of intoxication and violence.

The defense informed the courtroom that Hotema’s community had been hit with an epidemic of meningitis nine years earlier. Many lives were lost and among them was Solomon Hotema’s little daughter. As the death toll reached “alarming proportions,” Hotema and others consulted an individual who lived nearby. This specialist (described by the New York Times as an “Indian witch doctor”) diagnosed the loss of life as the clear result of the practice of witchcraft in the community and, in a sense, he also prescribed a cure by specifically naming the individuals who were witches.

Hotema (who was also a Presbyterian minister) was surely familiar with the Biblical command to kill witches (Exodus 22:16) - a command which is much more forceful and clear than the typical warning against “strong drink” (see Proverbs 20:1). Indeed, in a statement that issued from jail shortly after the arrest, Hotema said he had always “been for peace” but the “evil practice of magic” had “been among the Indian people for a number of years.” Thus, he decided to “sacrifice” his own life “for the Lord’s cause.”

Hotema numbered himself with “the law breakers” and “humbly” submitted his “neck” to the gallows.” And the defense lawyers simply ran with it. Their client murdered three people in cold blood because he believed all of them were witches. The jury was left to implicitly wonder, “How insane was that?” Incidentally, there are no known indications of how the intoxicated Choctaw witch hunter felt about the spiritual status of the fifteen-year old boy or the infant.

Hotema was tried for the murder of the second and third victims and acquitted by the jury on the ground of insanity. When he was next tried for the murder of Vina Coleman, the jury was unable to agree upon a verdict. So, before the judge sent the jury away for deliberation at the end of the third trial, he gave careful instructions. First, he noted that, as far as guilt or innocence was concerned, it was “not material” whether the evidence showed Hotema had any specific “motive” for killing Coleman. If the killing was intentional and without justification, then there was simply no need to search for a “motive.” The jury was then told that Hotema’s “recent use of whiskey” could not be considered a “defense” in the case. Finally, the judge informed the jury Hotema may very well have had a sincere belief in witches. But, if Hotema also believed he had “the right” to kill persons whom he believed to be witches, he might have to suffer the consequences. The punishment would depend on whether the belief was the “insane delusion” of an unsound mind, or the “erroneous conclusion” of a sane person.

Hotema was found guilty of murder (without qualification) and, on February 14, 1902, sentenced to hang. His lawyers appealed the conviction, of course, and the sentence was reversed. But the result of Hotema's dramatic re-sentencing was nothing more than a new date with the hangman's rope. A second round of appeals went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Justice Peckham wrote the Opinion of the Court in the case Hotema v. U.S. (1902). Peckham and a unanimous Court held the trial judge had “properly laid down the law” in regard to the responsibility of Hotema and his “alleged mental condition.” Peckham also noted the “distinction” between the erroneous opinion and insane delusion was “somewhat difficult” and the line could not be “easily drawn.” But, the Justice explained, “it exists.” The most interesting section of the Court’s opinion came at the end. Peckham noted the trial court had committed “no legal” error and that the justices were therefore “bound” to affirm its judgment. But Peckham could not help but note that, before the third trial, one jury acquitted Hotema on “two distinct and separate murders” on the ground of insanity and a second jury could not reach a decision. It took a third jury (and a lot of instructing!) to convict Hotema. Peckham observed:
The question whether, upon consideration of the facts, the extreme penalty of the law should be carried out upon this defendant, is one which must be addressed to the consideration of the executive, as it is not one over which this court has jurisdiction.
Attorney General Philander Chase Knox picked up on the Court’s cue and called upon Dr. A.B. Richardson, a “noted alienist” and superintendent of the Government Hospital for the Insane, to review the case. Dr. Richardson submitted a “full and satisfactory” report that concluded the “tribal and racial characteristics” of Hotema had been “largely obliterated” by “education,” but were “renewed and strengthened by the use of intoxicants.” Hotema's sentence was thus commuted - to life imprisonment - on October 28, 1902.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Merciful President v. Harsh (Incompetent) Bureaucrat(s)

The New York Times made the announcement on May 1, 1907, in a headline that read: MAY PARDON JANUARY. The brief article that followed informed readers that President Roosevelt might exercise the pardoning power in the case of John William January of Missouri by granting a commutation of January’s sentence “at once” or by granting a “outright” pardon. Roosevelt was reported to have become “interested” in the case.

January, whose real name was Charles William Anderson, was charged with breaking into the Post Office at Hennessey, Oklahoma, with the intent to commit larceny. The Federal Court at Guthrie sentenced the twenty-one year old to five years in prison in December of 1895. January was considered a “model prisoner” but, eventually, he decided that he would rather do other things. The Times originally reported January had served “the greater part” of his sentence, but he escaped from Leavenworth in October of 1898. That is, he served thirty-four months of a sixty-month sentence. On the other hand, with allowances for good conduct, January could have been released as early as sixteen months after the day he decided to escape.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oklahoma: Board v. Governor in Death Penalty Case reports that an "anti-death penalty group" is calling on Gov. Mary Fallin to commute the sentence of 56-year old Garry Thomas Allen who is sentenced to die next week. Interestingly, the State's Pardon and Parole Board recommended a commutation back in 2005 by a vote of 4-1.

Allen had a history of "substance abuse" and was drunk at the time of the murder. But he is also said to be "mentally impaired" with a "probable diagnosis" of "Schizophrenic Disorder, or Anxiety Disorder in a Paranoid Personality."

Allen killed the mother of his children in 1986. He was then shot in the head during a struggle with an officer. But Fallin says she has spent "quite a long time looking through his files" and she has "visited with his attorneys." See complete story here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oklahoma: Second Recommendation for Clemency!

News OK reports that the State's Pardon and Parole Board has, once again, recommended that the life without parole sentence of 61-year old Larry E. Yarbrough be commuted to 42 years. The Board's recommendation now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin. In 2002 the same decision was denied by then-Gov. Frank Keating. See story here. See our previous post here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oklahoma: Life Without Parole, The Yarbrough Case

CounterPunch is featuring an powerful article on the case of Larry Yarbrough, "a model prisoner" who is "in his 17th year of a life-without-parole sentence for a nonviolent drug crime." Later, this week, State Senator Connie Johnson will speak on behalf of Yarbrough at an Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board hearing. In 2002, the Board unanimously recommended a commutation of sentence, but former governor Frank Keating overturned the decision.

It is reported that, currently, 44 individuals are serving life without parole sentences in Oklahoma "for average drug crimes" but LWOP sentences "have not resulted in decreased drug trafficking." Instead:
they have committed Oklahoma taxpayers to paying $23,000 per year, per person (at present rates) to lock up a growing number of people for life. Taxpayers also are committed to covering prisoners' medical expenses (expected to triple) as they age, get sick, and die.
In addition to having never received a single "write up" during his incarceration, Larry Yarbrough "has received commendations from the Department Of Corrections and nonprofits for training guide dogs for the blind and disabled." He has been married after 41 years and has 5 children and 13 grandchildren. Before his conviction, he owned and operated "a popular BBQ restaurant in Kingfisher where he was known for giving back to his community."

CounterPunch notes:
These are tough times for state governments as well as most Americans. For these reasons, continuing to incarcerate Larry Yarbrough is very poor stewardship of our state's limited resources. According to Charles Savage of the New York Times in a recent article titled "Trend to Lighten Harsh Sentences Catches On in Conservative States," he points out that states fanned by the financial crisis, a wave of sentencing and parole reforms is gaining force as it sweeps across the United States, reversing a trend of "tough on crime" policies that lasted for decades and drove the nation's incarceration rate to the highest — and most costly — level in the developed world. While liberals have long complained that harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses like drug possession are unjust, the push to overhaul penal policies has been increasingly embraced by elected officials in some of the most conservative states in the country. And for a different reason: to save money.
See full piece here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Oklahoma: Commutations for Lifers

The Tulsa World reports that the State's Pardon and Parole Board is going to consider whether or not to commute the sentences of drug offenders serving life terms without parole possible. According to the World, State law "does not prohibit commutation of life-without-parole sentences," so a "special process" would not have to be "created." Prosecutors complain that such commutations would "dilute that sentencing option and could result in more trials and fewer plea agreements." See complete story here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Oklahoma: Call for Clemency

59-year-old Jerome Jay Erslan was offered a charge of manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea. But, he refused. So, jurors convicted him of first-degree murder. Lawyers are planning an appeal but "supporters" are said to be seeking a pardon from the governor.

You see, Erslan shot a masked individual who joined another individual - who was armed - during the course of a robbery in a pharmacy. The 14-year-old armed robber escaped, but Erslan shot the unarmed robber (who was 16), six times! See story here and here.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oklahoma: Mayor Elect Rejected!

The story of 33-year old Christopher S. Linder has reached the pages of the New York Times (see previous post here). Linder, the proud owner of the Pawnee Cafe who was previously identified as inmate 151011, has been elected mayor of Pawnee, Oklahoma (population 2,000). In a recent  appearance before the State's five member Board of Executive Clemency, however, he was required to sit through an extensive review of his offense (participating in a drive-by shooting and transporting marijuana) and prison history, as well as his previous use of cocaine, LSD and marijuana, and his tattoo! When it was all over, only one member of the Board was willing to recommend clemency to Governor Jan Brewer (famous for rejecting the Board's recommendations when prison inmates are actually deemed innocent!) Linder has to wait three years before he can apply for clemency again. See story here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oklahoma: Elected but Convicted

Christopher Linder was elected mayor of Pawnee a month ago. Problem is that he once served a five-year prison sentence for transporting marijuana and taking part in a drive-by shooting. Although Linder was released from prison in 2005, State law prohibits him from holding office for 15 years. The other alternative is: a pardon, from Governor Jan Brewer - known to ignore the recommendations of the State's Board of Executive Clemency, even when there is a strong sense that someone has been wrongly convicted! See story here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oklahoma: Parole and the Governor

The Oklahoman reports that the State's "rate of parole for inmates is far too low and that this is costly — very costly — to taxpayers." A 2007 audit found the parole approval rate to be 18 percent and recommended that the governor be removed from all but the most "serious" cases. But, as of today, the governor still signs off on every parole and a new study finds the parole rate to be 11 percent. Since paroles are becoming "very uncommon" and "increasingly rare,” more inmates are opting to simply seek release without restrictions. The State legislature is considering a bill which would remove the governor cases involving nonviolent criminals, and would expand eligibility for "community sentencing and GPS tracking upon release." See complete story here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oklahoma: Recommendation

KTUL ABC 8 reports that the State's Pardon and Parole board has voted 3-2 to ask governor Brad Henry to commute the 25-year prison sentence of 60-year old Lawrence Tyrone Watts, who happens to be the brother of former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts. Watts, who has served only 7 years of his sentence, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Apparently, there was a dispute between the two men regarding money. It is reported that the victim's  family and a county prosecutors "had fought to keep [Watts] behind bars. See full story here and an earlier report here.

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