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Jerry D. Sokolosky Dead
Attorney Who Served In Legislature
, Sought To Get Elected to Congress

A member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board allegedly said she will never vote to parole an inmate convicted of murder, and that led a murder convict recently denied parole to file a lawsuit. Freddie M. Johnson, who is serving a life sentence, contends the parole board didn’t give him an impartial hearing, as is required under the state constitution.

The board considered his parole in January under what is called a “jacket review,” which means the inmate doesn’t appear and the board members consider the inmate using an investigator’s report. The investigator described Mr. Johnson as low risk in the report and recommended parole. But the board voted unanimously to deny.

Patricia High, an Oklahoma City attorney who was appointed to the board by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2014, “made the comment that she would never vote to parole anyone convicted of murder, despite any extenuating circumstances,” according to Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit, which was filed March 16 in Oklahoma County District Court.

As proof, he submitted a letter written by an attorney, Debra Hampton, to another inmate at the Lexington Correctional Center, where Mr. Johnson is being held. Miss Hampton told The Oklahoman she recalls Mrs. High saying she “had a hard time voting for my violent clients.” When reached by e-mail Friday, Mrs. High would not comment while the lawsuit is pending.

Other board members include Robert “Brett” Macy, a retired Oklahoma City police lieutenant and son of former Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy; Vanessa Price, a consultant and former Oklahoma City police sergeant; and Tom Gillert, a retired Tulsa County judge. All are named individually in the lawsuit.

A fifth board member, retired Tulsa police officer William E. Latimer, was appointed last month. Mr. Johnson claims his hearing was unconstitutional because the board was comprised of four members, with the fifth seat vacant. The state constitution specifies the pardon and parole board is to be composed of five members.

He also claims the board wasn’t impartial because three of the four members have ties to the Oklahoma City Police Department or former prosecutor Bob Macy, who was in office when Mr. Johnson was convicted. The constitution specifies the board’s duty is to “make an impartial investigation and study of applications for commutations, pardons or paroles, and by a majority vote, make its recommendations to the Governor of all persons deemed worth of clemency.” In a response filed with the court Thursday, the board disputes that Mr. Johnson’s constitutional rights were violated because parole is discretionary and not a guaranteed right. Also, the board argues, the four members who voted to deny his parole would still represent a majority even if a fifth member had been voting.

Mr. Johnson, 63, was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend, LaBertha Hughes, 34. Her body was found on a bed at the Midwest City home they shared, and she had been shot at least seven times in the chest and stomach. Prosecutors said Mr. Johnson proposed to Mrs. Hughes the night before, but she rejected him, and said she had a new boyfriend and was moving out the next day. Mr. Johnson said he blacked out and didn’t remember doing anything bad to Mrs. Hughes.

He shot her, then placed a diamond ring on her finger, a diamond bracelet on her wrist and surrounded her body with plants. Mr. Johnson then attempted suicide.

Police arrived and found the gas burners on the kitchen stove turned on, as well as suicide notes. Mr. Johnson was treated at a hospital for gas inhalation. Mr. Johnson is a veteran who served 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, between 1970 and 1997, when he received an honorable discharge, according to the parole investigator’s report. He’s also a member of Battle Buddies, a program created in 2013 by Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Secretary Rita Aragon that pairs incarcerated veterans with veterans on the outside. Mr. Johnson said his “buddy” is supposed to help with events like a parole hearing, but didn’t. Mr. Johnson earned his GED certificate in 1998 and has never been disciplined for violating prison rules. “He has maintained a clear conduct since incarceration, positive work evaluations and completed available programs,” the investigator wrote. In his lawsuit, Mr. Johnson asked the judge to order a new parole hearing at which he could appear. He also asked for Mrs. High to be removed from the board and for Mr. Price and Mr. Macy to abstain from voting. His next parole hearing is set for Jan. 2018.

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