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In largely silent vote deviating from previous statements, parole board denies clemency to Gilbert Postelle

Gilbert Postelle addresses the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board

Another death row inmate has failed at gaining a clemency recommendation from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board.

The board voted Wednesday to deny clemency to Gilbert Postelle for the 2005 killings of James Alderson, Terry Smith, and Donnie Swindle committed with brother David Postelle. Amy Wright, 26, was also shot in the back and killed as she fled from Gilbert Postelle at an Oklahoma City trailer home.

Postelle addressed the parole board himself. He said he started using meth as an adolescent and he was angry because he thought the victims hurt his father.

Postelle said he has been a sort of trustee in prison. The guards allow him to help clean and do other chores. Former prosecutor Richard Smothermon asked him about it.

“I’m an orderly. I come out, I mop the pod, I clean the pod, spray the doors down, sanitize them,” said Postelle.

Smothermon wasn’t impressed enough to suggest clemency, though he said owing to “mitigating factors” it must have been difficult for a jury to give Postelle a sentence of death.

“It must have been very, very, difficult in that jury room because there are mitigating factors,” Smothermon said.

Besides the injury to Postelle’s father, other mitigating factors include Postelle's IQ that's been measured to be in the 70's.

Smothermon said he had no idea how he was going to vote when he walked into Kate Barnard Correctional Center Wednesday morning, but because he thought Postelle lied about not remembering anything about the murders he voted to deny clemency.

In past hearings, Smothermon has aggressively questioned death row inmates but no answers have made a difference. He has voted to deny clemency for all prisoners.

The rest of the board except chairman Adam Luck voted to deny clemency, as well.

The vote reflects departures in stated voting preferences by board members. At a Nov. 1 clemency hearing for Julius Jones, social worker Kelly Doyle voted in favor of clemency because of Jones’ age of 19 years. Postelle was also 18 or 19 at the time of his crimes but Doyle voted to deny him clemency without explaining her decision.

In the past, Doyle has said she is being silenced. Attorney General John O’Connor and District Attorney David Prater filed back-to-back lawsuitsagainst Doyle for her background in social work.

Doyle is seeking attorney fees from O’Connor’s office for the costs involved in fighting the lawsuits.

Former probation officer Larry Morris also voted to give Jones clemency because Christopher Jordan, involved in the 1999 murder of Paul Howell with Jones, received a much lighter sentence than Jones. There are similar circumstances in Postelle’s case.

Postelle's brother was sentenced to life in prison for his part in the four murders. The disparity in sentencing was wide enough to draw comment from Smothermon but not Morris.

In fact, Smothermon was the only member to explain his vote.

The silence comes after an outcry from the board over the October execution of John Grant, who vomited and convulsed before he died on the gurney at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Citing concerns over the lethal injection Grant received, the board recommended clemency for Bigler Stouffer,a man they think is guilty, on Nov. 17.

Morris especially seemed to be disturbed. He said he was “dumbfounded” that the parole board was even considering capital cases when a federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection drugs is pending.

At the Tuesday clemency hearing for Donald Grant, Morris said after meeting with the judge overseeing that federal case, Judge Stephen Friot, he no longer has those concerns.

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.