Prater Asks Judge to Bar Governor

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater describes the attempted robbery of the Reliable Pharmacy at 5900 S Penn. during a press conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma May 27, 2009. Pharmacist Jerome Ersland was charged today with first-degree murder in the May 19 shooting death of a would-be robber. Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

The Oklahoma County prosecutor has filed a lawsuit asking a district court judge to bar the governor from granting a commutation hearing for a death row inmate.

The lawsuit also accuses the state parole board of “improprieties” as it voted recently to recommend a commutation hering to the governor for the inmate.

The Oklahoma Pardon & Parole Board   recently  voted to recommend a commutation hearing for Julius Jones, the death row inmate convicted of killing an Edmond businessman during a carjacking.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said in the lawsuit that the board violated the law by not giving prosecutors proper notice when inmates request commutations.

He  accused  the acting board chairman, Adam Luck, and another board member, Kelly Doyle, of having a direct material financial interest in the cases coming before them.

The prosecutor asked Oklahoma County District Judge Don Andrews to invalidate on ethical grounds any parole or commutation recommendation where they voted. 

In addition, District Attorney Prater   asked the judge to block the governor from considering any of those recommendations.

“We are not intimidated by political hit jobs disguised as ‘lawsuits’ in a desperate cry for publicity,” a statement issued by the governor’s office said.

“[The governor] is proud of all four members of the constitutionally established Pardon & Parole Board, who take their jobs seriously and consider each case on its individual merits.”

The board’s general counsel said there would be no comment on the pending litigation.

“Similar concerns have been raised with our office recently regarding the conduct of certain board members,” said state Attorney General Mike Hunter.   “District Attorney Prater has chosen an appropriate forum to investigate these matters.”

The Prater lawsuit came just days after the board voted 3-1 to give death row inmate Julius Jones a second hearing on his commutation request.

Mr. Jones, 40, is facing execution for the 1999 fatal shooting of an Edmond insurance executive during a carjacking. 

He claims he was framed.

Millions signed a petition in his support after ABC aired the documentary series, “The Last Defense,” in 2018, which was about Mr. Jones’ innocence claim. 

His supporters include celebrity Kim Kardashian West, former University of Oklahoma  quarterback Baker Mayfield and former Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.

Before the board’s vote,   District  Attorney  Prater asked Board Member Luck to recuse himself from participation in the decision to recommend the commutation hearing.

“You have publicly demonstrated your personal bias in regards to this case,” the prosecutor told that board member in a letter.

Prior to the vote, the board member said he would not recuse himself.

In the Prater lawsuit, the prosecutor asked the judge to direct the board to adopt “appropriate procedures to consider and adjudicate a challenge to members’ ability to hear a matter in a fair and impartial manner.”

The Prater lawsuit comes as state agents are investigating whether two inmates were recommended  for commutation by mistake.

The governor requested help from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation after a drug offender, Lawrence Paul Anderson, was accused of fatally stabbing three victims in Chickasha on Feb. 9 after getting out of prison early.

Mr. Anderson, 42, has confessed, saying he cut out one victim’s heart to cook and eat, according to court affidavits. 

He was released in January after the governor commuted his sentence for drug-dealing and other crimes to nine years.

The governor signed the commutation after the parole board recommended it last year by a 3-1 vote.

Records show the board rejected  Mr. Anderson’s commutation request by a 3-2 vote in July 2019. 

That denial should have blocked any further consideration for three years.

Even so, Mr. Anderson   applied for commutation again in Aug. 2019 and got votes in his favor in Oct. 2019 and Jan. 2020, according to court records.

District Attorney Prater made note of the triple murder case in his lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, Anderson’s case does not appear to be an isolated instance of procedural irregularity by the Oklahoma Pardon and  & Parole Board,” he told the judge.

“To truly answer the call to service to keep our communities safe and to be a strong voice for crime victims, the prosecutor’s advocacy must continue at every step the laudable goal of justice might be threatened,” the district attorney   wrote. 

“Here, the threat comes from the deliberate subversion of constitutional and statutory obligations by the board.”

The governor appointed Board  Members Luck and Doyle to the board in Feb. 2019 and said they would bring a fresh perspective.

Both have been accused of bias, though, because of their employment.

Board Member Luck is president of City Care, a non-profit organization working with Oklahoma City residents in extreme poverty.

Board Member Doyle is deputy executive director of the Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps released inmates access jobs and housing.

“The board is supposed to be neutral,” Payne County District Attorney Laura Thomas complained in a news release last year.   

“Victims and others who are protesting early release can’t help but doubt whether these two board members will fairly consider their arguments.”

In his petition, the Oklahoma County prosecutor told the judge Board Members Luck and Doyle have “nefarious motivations” behind the decisions they make. 

He   asked the judge to rule that a reasonable person would believe under the circumstances that they appear to be biased.

Supporters of Julius Jones have criticized District Attorney Prater for not speaking up about Allen McCall, a former judge. 

The supporters complain Mr.  McCall made up his mind to oppose Mr. Jones’ commutation request well ahead of time.

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