Man on Death Row Who Claimed Self-Defense Denied Clemency by Oklahoma Governor

Associated Press - November 30, 2023 10:46 am

Oklahoma death row inmate Philip Hancock.

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday declined to spare the life of a man on death row who claimed self-defense in the shooting deaths of two men in Oklahoma City in 2001, denying clemency shortly after the man’s lethal injection had been scheduled to begin.

The Pardon and Parole Board narrowly voted 3-2 earlier this month to recommend that the governor grant clemency to 59-year-old Phillip Dean Hancock. It was the fourth time the panel recommended that Stitt spare the life of a death row inmate.

Stitt previously commuted the death sentence of Julius Jones in 2021 just hours before Jones was scheduled to receive a lethal injection. The governor rejected clemency recommendations for two other death row inmates, Bigler Stouffer and James Coddington, both of whom were later executed.

A spokeswoman for Stitt said the governor planned to interview prosecutors, defense attorneys and the victims’ families before making a decision.

Hancock has long maintained that he shot and killed Robert Jett Jr., 37, and James Lynch, 58, in self-defense after the two men attacked him inside Jett’s home on the south side of Oklahoma City on April 26, 2001.

Hancock’s attorneys claimed at a hearing earlier this month that Jett and Lynch were members of outlaw motorcycle gangs who lured the unarmed Hancock to Jett’s home. They said Jett ordered Hancock to get inside a large cage before swinging a metal bar at him. After Jett and Lynch attacked him, the attorneys said, Hancock managed to take Jett’s pistol from him and shoot them both.

Hancock, who testified at the hearing via a video link from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, said he arrived at the home “unarmed and unsuspecting” and that he was terrified when an armed Jett ordered him into a cage.

“Please understand the awful situation I found myself in,” Hancock said. “I have no doubt they would have killed me. They forced me to fight for my life.”

Hancock fled after the killings, and the case grew cold before a tip from a confidential informant more than a year later led police to him.

Two Republican state legislators who say they strongly support the death penalty, Reps. Kevin McDugle and Justin Humphrey, testified on Hancock’s behalf and urged the governor to spare his life.

Attorneys for the state argued that Hancock gave varying accounts of what happened and that his testimony didn’t align with physical evidence at the scene.

Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lockett said the jury took all of this into account before rendering its verdict, which has been upheld by numerous state and federal appeals courts.

“Hancock’s credibility was absolutely eviscerated at trial because his claims conflicted with the evidence,” Lockett said.

 

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