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Execution nearing, calls mount for Stitt to grant clemency to death row inmate James Coddington

The front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, home to the state's execution chamber. From file.
Chris Polansky / KWGS News
The front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, home to the state's execution chamber. From file.

Less than 48 hours before his scheduled execution, Oklahoma death row inmate James Coddington on Tuesday afternoon was still awaiting word on whether or not Gov. Kevin Stitt would accept the state pardon and parole board's recommendation that his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

On Monday, former Republican Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele joined the growing list of individuals calling on Stitt to grant clemency.

"I am sure the task of considering a clemency application from a death row prisoner weighs heavily upon you," Steele wrote in a letter to Stitt, a Republican. "But I hope that when you look at all the information before you, you will consider God's call to extend mercy to the redeemed. I hope you will see that granting clemency to James Coddington is the right decision."

Reached by phone Tuesday, Steele said that while he had not received a response from the governor, he was optimistic Stitt would spare Coddington's life given Stitt's professed faith.

"Given those elements, and given the fact that I know that the governor is also 'pro-life,' I do feel optimistic that the governor would grant clemency in this situation," Steele said.

Steele echoed the sentiment of former Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones, who told Public Radio Tulsa earlier this month Coddington should not be killed because he would do more good alive than dead, helping to mentor younger prisoners and keeping corrections staff safer.

A former robbery victim of Coddington, Trisha Allen, also submitted a sworn affidavit to the governor in support of clemency after speaking with Coddington by phone.

"During our call, Mr. Coddington apologized for his actions against me," Allen wrote. "I believe his apology was genuine and I truly believe he is remorseful."

"He can still be of use alive in prison. Being dead is not going to help anybody on Earth," Allen told Public Radio Tulsa.

On Aug. 3, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 to recommend Coddington for clemency. His attorneys focused on his severe, documented childhood abuse and neglect, including his being force-fed liquor as an infant and his addiction to cocaine by age 13. They also highlighted good behavior in prison, as attested to by a former corrections officer who supervised Coddington.

The parole board is made up of a majority of members appointed by Stitt. In the two clemency recommendations from the board so far during his time in office, Stitt has accepted one, sparing the life of Julius Jones, and rejected another, allowing the execution of Bigler Stouffer to proceed.

The governor's office has not returned repeated requests for comment since the parole board's vote.

Coddington was convicted of the 1997 murder of friend and coworker Albert Hale in Choctaw, after Hale refused to give Coddington money for drugs. Coddington used a hammer to bludgeon Hale inside Hale's home, and took cash from Hale's wallet before fleeing.

Barring action by the governor or a court ruling, Coddington is scheduled to be executed via lethal injection at 10 A.M. Thursday inside the death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. His is the first of 25 executions currently scheduled in Oklahoma, roughly one per month through the end of 2024.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.