OK-CADP Statement on Death Penalty Action and Rev. Jeff Hood

Oklahoma City, August 2023 — The focus of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) is on the well-being of the men and women on death row in Oklahoma.

We believe that the tactics of Death Penalty Action (DPA) and Rev. Jeff Hood jeopardize that by driving a wedge between clients facing imminent execution and their legal teams.

The attorneys in the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender’s office are the inmates’ best hope for avoiding execution.

OK-CADP works closely with the Habeas attorneys to support their efforts. “I have attended all clemency hearings before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board since the moratorium on executions was lifted two years ago,” said Rev. Don Heath, OK-CADP Chair.

“I have been impressed with the thoughtfulness and subtlety of the presentations by all the Habeas attorneys. They made better arguments than I would have thought possible.” OK-CADP works closely with the Habeas attorneys to coordinate strategy and to hold press conferences to promote each inmate’s story in upcoming clemency hearings.

Over the years the Capital Habeas Unit has obtained appropriate relief for 21 prisoners on Oklahoma’s death row. By contrast, Rev. Hood damaged Scott Eizember’s clemency application by posting his phone calls online with Eizember.

The Assistant Attorneys General closed their opposition to Eizember’s clemency application by playing clips from Rev. Hood’s posts. In addition, Rev. Hood apparently persuaded Anthony Sanchez to waive his clemency hearing and represent himself pro se in any further legal action.

Clemency hearings are not a futile exercise. The Pardon and Parole Board has recommended clemency in three of the 11 petitions that it has heard in the last two years and narrowly rejected clemency by votes of 3-2 and 2-2 in six other cases. Two of the reliable No votes have resigned in the last 30 days.

Unfortunately, Gov. [Kevin] Stitt is free to accept or reject the Board’s recommendations, and he has granted clemency only in the Julius Jones case.

We are troubled that DPA and Rev. Hood routinely mock the Habeas attorneys.

“State and federal courts in Oklahoma care more about executing people than they do about executing justice and state-appointed attorneys in Oklahoma are too greedy and incompetent to do anything about it,” Rev. Hood said in a statement to the McAlester News-Capital published on June 8.

“From the Capital Habeas Unit to independent state attorneys like Mark Barrett and Randy Coyne, Oklahoma habeas attorneys seem to be good at one thing, making sure the slaughter continues.”

Rev. Hood has served as a spiritual adviser for three inmates — Eizember, Sanchez and Michael Smith — and encouraged his clients to fire their Habeas attorneys. DPA has supported him in this effort.

Joe Heaton, District Court Judge in the Western District of Oklahoma, heard testimony at a hearing on June 6, 2023, about Rev. Hood’s activity among the inmates on death row. Judge Heaton found that Rev. Hood was a “nominal spiritual adviser” who acted “to interject himself into the relationship between capital defendants and their counsel and that such efforts are motivated at least in part by considerations other than the best interest of the client.”

OK-CADP is horrified by the approach that DPA has taken with Attorney General Gentner Drummond. DPA accuses Drummond of racism by refusing to give “the Glossip Treatment” to Sanchez, who is of Native American ancestry. OK-CADP applauds the integrity and courage of Drummond in asking the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to cancel the execution dates for 12 inmates and for spreading out the executions of six inmates over 15 months.

Drummond also ordered an independent investigation into the trial of Richard Glossip and took the unprecedented step of supporting Glossip’s request to set the conviction aside and his petition for clemency. Drummond withstood pushback from District Attorneys across the state, some of whom appeared at the Glossip clemency hearing to oppose Drummond’s support for clemency. Drummond continues to support Glossip’s argument for a new trial in a pending appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

OK-CADP has made repeated protests to DPA to no avail; DPA has doubled down on its attacks on Habeas attorneys. DPA is an out-of-state group that is working against not with local groups on the ground.

OK-CADP renounces any relationship with DPA and Rev. Hood.

Note: Pat McGuigan, founder and publisher of CapitolBeatOK.com, is a dues-paid member of OK-CADP. The comments above are from an early August press release by the head of OK-CADP, Rev. Don Heath. Pat has bold-faced some names and italicized other information for emphasis. However, all of the analysis above is his. It is shared for the sake of preserving the historical record. This story is posted in the occasional series of press releases or original reporting that preserve a moment or set of events in the ongoing stories touching Oklahoma’s use of capital punishment, and the issues connected with that. CapitolBeatOK.com, based in Oklahoma City, is independent, non-partisan and locally-managed. It was founded in 2009.