July 15, 2022 Filing: James Coddington, A Man Transformed By Remorse, Seeks Clemency Before August 25 Execution Date

Oklahoma City July 15 – Pointing to his impeccable prison record for more than 15 years and his sincere remorse, attorneys for James Coddington on July 15 asked the Oklahoma Board of Pardons and Parole to commute his death sentence ahead of his scheduled execution on August 25.

Mr. Coddington’s clemency petition, available at https://tinyurl.com/mpdwsmh2, stresses that “James exemplifies the principle of redemption.” (p.1) “He takes full responsibility for his actions and the consequences of those actions. He has repented and abandoned his prior life. He has remorse for his actions against Albert Hale, for the suffering Mr. Hale experienced, and for the suffering Mr. Hale’s loved ones continue to experience.” (p.1)

According to one of Mr. Coddington’s attorneys, Emma Rolls, “If our society believes in the principle of redemption, then James Coddington’s life must be spared.”

She added, “The man the jury convicted and sentenced to death no longer exists. If anyone is deserving of mercy, James Coddington is.”

The petition describes how Mr. Coddington recognizes that he cannot undo the harm he has caused but strives to do what is possible to improve himself and his world. He completed his GED after several tries, receiving staff acknowledgment for his outstanding participation and achievement. (p.6) He has earned the trust of prison staff, who view him as no security threat. On the contrary, he has worked for several years as the Unit Orderly or “run man,” working at least 40 hours a week cleaning, distributing meals, clothing, and property, and assisting staff in a range of tasks. (pp.2-7)

Former Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones provided a statement filed in support of Mr. Coddington’s petition pointing to his “commendable” record of “sustained good conduct.” (p.4)

In another statement, retired correctional officer, Mark Silverthorn, describes Mr. Coddington as a “straight shooter” who “was always very respectful to me.” (p.5)

Further, while Mr. Coddington accepts full responsibility for his actions, the petition explains that the jury was not given full and accurate information when it convicted him of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.

Mr. Coddington struck and killed Albert Hale, his close friend, in the throes of an extended drug binge. (pp.21-22) Expert evaluations conducted before his trial determined that his drug-induced psychosis would have made it impossible to form the intent required for first-degree murder, but the trial judge excluded the evidence. (pp.23-24)

Reviewing courts have acknowledged this as a constitutional error but excused it as “harmless.” (pp.22-23 n.21)

The petition explains that Mr. Coddington struggled for years to overcome the addiction that led to his commission of the crime, checking himself into rehab on multiple occasions. (pp.20-22) But the seeds of that addiction were both genetic and environmental, and before his incarceration, he lacked the support system and stability he needed to achieve long-term sobriety.

Both of Mr. Coddington’s parents were addicts. His mother became incarcerated when James was a newborn, leaving him in the care of his alcoholic father who routinely put beer and whiskey in James’s baby bottles. (p.12)

Mr. Coddington grew up in nearly uninhabitable living conditions, surrounded by filth, stench, and drug paraphernalia in Oklahoma City’s notorious Mulligan Flats neighborhood. As an infant, he crawled on floors strewn with needles and once swallowed a small package of drugs. (p.14 n.10)

Adults and teenagers shot up openly around James and his younger brother, and while drugs were plentiful, the children had to scrounge for food in dumpsters. (p.10-14)

Mr. Coddington suffered regular, vicious beatings from his father and others; he was just a baby when his father slapped him so hard he flipped over and hit the wall with his feet above his head, his lips turning blue from the impact. (pp.12-13)

After his teenage half-sister ran away with 15-month-old James in an effort to protect him, Mr. Coddington was placed in foster care for just a few days. (pp.13-14) Later, for a six-month period when he was in elementary school, Mr. Coddington received inpatient mental health care at Oklahoma Children’s Medical Hospital, where he thrived in a safe and structured environment. (p.15-18) But for the most part, although there were frequent investigations of the family by public officials, Mr. Coddington was left in the violent, chaotic, and neglectful custody of one or the other of his parents or his grandmother.

Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that by age seven, Mr. Coddington had begun sniffing paint (p.16), or that he would develop an addiction to crack cocaine.

Mr. Coddington’s clemency petition explains that “evidence of the seed of innate goodness James always possessed is buried in the records of his horrific childhood. The fact that seed flourished on death row reinforces the importance of clemency in the death penalty process.” (p.1) The petition urges the Board and the Governor to consider all of this evidence and conclude that “the entirety of James’s life proves he is not the worst of the worst offenders.” (p.26)

“If granted clemency, he will not squander any opportunity for continued self-improvement or the opportunity to benefit others.” (pp.26-27) The petition, therefore, urges that Mr. Coddington’s death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

Editor’s Note: In early August, the state Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 in favor of clemency for James Coddington. For details: https://www.city-sentinel.com/criminal_justice/pardon-and-parole-board-recommends-clemency-for-james-coddington/article_037ef4dc-13ff-11ed-8e1b-cf8618425361.html. CapitolBeatOK.com is an independent, non-partisan and locally-managed news service based in Oklahoma City. Publisher, founder and editor Patrick B. McGuigan is the author of three books and the co-editor of seven, including ‘Crime and Punishment in Modern America’, a compilation of scholarly essays by diverse scholars seeking criminal justice reforms. He is the author of hundreds of news stories and commentaries on capital punishment.