In Last 20 Years, Oklahoma Governors Deny More Death Row Clemency Recommendations

Wednesday, November 17th 2021, 6:03 pm

As the country awaits a decision on the clemency recommendation for Julius Jones, Gov. Kevin Stitt is not Oklahoma’s first head of state to face a clemency decision for a death row inmate.

Over the past 20 years, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has recommended more than a dozen prisoners be taken off death row. More often than not, those requests have been denied.

The last time, Stitt spoke publicly about Jones’ clemency recommendation was in a News 9 interview in Mexico City, Mexico.

“We are going to go through the process that has a lot of precedence that other governors have followed,” Stitt said.

While each case, each governor and each pardon and parole board is different, 13 death row inmates awaiting execution have been recommended for clemency since 2013.

Nine were denied by the governor at the time, while four were approved.

Most recently was in 2010. Gov. Brad Henry spared the life of Richard Tandy Smith. Smith was serving a death sentence for the 1986 shooting of a man during a drug deal. Henry said he reviewed the evidence and respected the board's recommendation.

In 2008, Henry removed Kevin Young awaiting execution for the 1996 murder of Robert Sutton during a botched robbery. 

In 2004, Henry yielded to international pressure and granted clemency to Osbaldo Torres. Torres was sentenced death for a 1993 double homicide.

In 2001, Gov. Frank Keating removed Phillip Smith from death row after a witness placing him at a 1983 murder recanted.

The four had their death sentences reduced to live without the possibility of parole. All are still serving time in prisons around the state.

Over the past two decades, the rejections have come from both Republican and Democratic governors. Some come with unanimous clemency recommendations, but for various reasons, Keating, Henry and Gov. Mary Fallin all decided to deny clemency recommendations for a total of nine death row prisoners.

The governors declined clemency recommendations for Gerado Valdez, Earnest Marvin Carter, David Jay Brown, Jackie Lee Willingham, Bobby Joe Fields, Hung Thanh Le, Donald Gilson, Gary Thomas Allen and Brian Darrell Davis.

All but Valdez, a Mexican national, were put to death. Valdez was given a new trial in 2003.