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Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board reacts to critical grand jury report

Posted at 6:19 AM, May 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 19:15:05-04

TULSA, Okla. — An Oklahoma County grand jury filed a report Thursday criticizing the actions of the Pardon and Parole Board members, Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma legislature.

2 News obtained the 65-page report from NonDoc. The report points to numerous problems the grand jury says relating to the Pardon and Parle Board's functions, administrative rules and policies.

The grand jury met 17 times and issued 65 subpoenas for testimony and records. It heard from witnesses, including former and current board members, former and current executive directors, as well as legal counsel. Findings state the board lacks transparency, objectivity, and for several years, procedures designed as safeguards were ignored in order to speed up the commutation process and to increase the number of commutations that were being heard and recommended.

Grand jurors say Gov. Stitt's actions regarding the appointees to the board have been "grossly improper" and that board's commutation process was focused on increasing the number of cases heard. It states board members met with Gov. Stitt before taking seats or taking oath of office. The report says that such a meeting violates the spirit of the Open Meetings Act, and clearly rendered the future Board less than independent.

Stitt's office released this statement about the findings:

“Oklahomans elected Governor Stitt with the most votes in state history because they wanted a fresh set of eyes on all areas of state government and he is carrying out the will of the voters by ensuring that board appointees are aligned with his vision to protect the taxpayers, preserve public safety and expose and root out corruption.

The grand jury process was a sham from the beginning and culminated with a report verifying this was little more than an outgoing prosecutor’s latest abuse of the public’s trust to target his opponents. Oklahoma law explicitly prohibits grand juries from making allegations that public officials have engaged in misconduct, and it is clear the outgoing prosecutor took advantage of the citizens who served on this grand jury to unwittingly carry out his partisan feud against Governor Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board.”

The grand jury also questioned whether Gov. Stitt has staff who research and vet cases recommended for parole, commutation, or pardon. The report singles out the commutation case of Lawrence Paul Anderson. He is the man alleged to have murdered three people after his release in January of 2021.

Leading up to that, Anderson had been sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2017 for a probation violation in a drug case.

Anderson applied for commutation on Jan. 17, 2019. At the time, he was denied.

Board rules state that an inmate must wait at least three years after a denial to re-apply. However, Anderson did just that on Aug. 8, 2019, only seven months later.

Anderson was re-docketed and eventually recommended for commutation.

The grand jury also heard evidence about four other murders allegedly committed by inmates released in a commutation push.

In the report, the grand jury states:

"... that beginning in 2019 until mid-2021, the commutation process was that in fact used as an "early release mechanism" and was anything but "rare..."

The report goes on to say:

"The evidence also indicates that the overall push at the board was 'volume' over anything else, and 'corners were cut' and 'processes were ignored' in order to get the highest number of people onto the commutation dockets."

The report also states that releases went well beyond those persons who would arguably qualify for a commutation because in Oklahoma, the law changed in 2016 to make drug possession a misdemeanor.

2 News reached out to Tom Bates, the executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board, and he gave the following statement:

“I appreciate the time and effort the grand jurors dedicated to reviewing this matter and look forward to implementing their recommendations as quickly as possible.”

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