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Former victim of death row inmate James Coddington asks Stitt for mercy

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Federal public defender's office
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Emma Rolls
Trisha Allen addresses Gov. Stitt in a video message

A former robbery victim of James Coddington is asking Gov. Kevin Stitt to spare the death row inmate’s life.

Trisha Allen, 45, was an overnight gas station cashier in Oklahoma City about 25 years ago when Coddington entered the store with a knife around 5 a.m. During the brief robbery of the register, Coddington almost hurt Allen with the knife.

“At some point he lunged forward to try to stab me, but I had stepped backwards and the knife slipped off my name tag,” said Allen.

Allen emptied the register and wasn’t hurt. Coddington went on to murder 73-year-old Albert Hale in Hale’s Choctaw home in a fit of what Coddington describes as drug-addicted rage.

Allen, now a registered nurse living in Yukon, said she’s since thought of Coddington as more of an adrift soul rather than a hardened criminal, stressing that she's been through more than one robbery.

"He just seemed very lost," Allen said.

As Coddington's scheduled execution has neared, Allen, a Christian, felt moved by God to make arrangements to see him in prison. Coddington is too close to his Aug. 25 death date to get new visitors, though, according to Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Allen eventually called Coddington. To date, she’s spoken to him three times on the phone and says her initial impression of his softer nature was confirmed. She said his main goal in life has become atonement.

“I really just think he wants to give back, just naturally. He didn’t say, ‘oh, I want to give back,’ but that’s naturally what he’s doing. He’s trying to teach and talk about what he learned,” said Allen.

Coddington earned his GED in prison in 2002. He serves as an orderly at OSP and has had a clean prison record for more than a decade.

Last week, Allen made a video pleading a case for mercy delivered to Stitt through Coddington’s attorney. In it, Allen explains she thinks Coddington could be instrumental in teaching faith to other inmates.

“All those people that are willing to reach out, to be righteous, to be Christians, they need a mentor, they need someone to teach them the way,” said Allen in the video.

In an interview with Public Radio Tulsa, Allen said Coddington has already taught her to slow down and consider choices more carefully.

“In my own personal experience with the things that I have to deal with, I don’t stop and try to act righteously. I just react. If he taught me that in the first phone call, he can teach other people. He can still be of use alive in prison. Being dead is not going to help anybody on Earth,” said Allen.

Stitt is considering clemency for Coddington after the state parole board suggested it. The 3-2 vote saw former prosecutor Richard Smothermon, who’s so far rejected clemency for other death row inmates, voting in favor.

Former ODOC Director Justin Jones has also expressed support for commuting Coddington’s sentence to life in prison without parole.

Allen said she’s considered that it’s an election year for Stitt and that the decision facing him may be political, but that she and others have been inspired to speak for a reason.

“God put that stuff together, and he didn’t do it aimlessly,” said Allen. “It’s somebody’s life.”

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.