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Inside Track to Parole Process, New Questions About Potentially Illegal Inmate Releases
We’re taking a closer look at some of the inmates that
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater says were put on a fast track
for early release by the Pardon and Parole Board. “It certainly
appears there may have been an inside track to be considered for parole,” said
Fox 25 Legal Analyst David Slane after reviewing some of the inmates considered
for early release. Those inmates’
names never appear on official agendas by the agency and some who committed
crimes that make them ineligible for early parole.
Ben Jones, Jr. was convicted of Murder in 1974. His Department of Corrections record shows he
escaped from prison in the 1980s, but is now on parole. The letter Prater sent to Pardon and Parole
Executive Director Terry Jenks says Jones was put on the secret docket in 2010,
which would mean he spent about a decade less time in prison than the 45 years
outlined in state law as a ‘life sentence’ for murder.
Lawrence Watts is the wife of a Department of Corrections
warden. He’s in jail for manslaughter in
the heat of passion. His page on the DOC
website shows he’s not eligible for parole until 2025, but somehow the Pardon
and Parole Board heard his case and recommended his sentence be commuted with
only time served. The governor did deny
Then there are inmates like Walter Hill. He broke into a house in 2005 while a woman
was still inside. Hill was not eligible
for parole consideration until 2016, but his sentence was commuted by the governor
earlier this year. Hill’s case for commutation
was championed by the same man responsible for his conviction, former Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane. “I met him
formally, actually in the prison he was at.
I spent four years with him, going down visiting him, talking to him; mentoring
him if you will, walking along side him,” Lane told Fox 25.
District Attorney David Prater’s office argued against early
release for Hill. A letter sent the
Pardon and Parole Board details Hill’s crime and mentions his past criminal
records including prior convictions and probation violations. A prosecutor also made a personal plea to
the board objecting to his release.
Hill’s case was ultimately sent to the governor’s
office. However the paperwork provided
to Fox 25 by Governor Mary Fallin’s office shows the pardon and parole board
did little to note the prosecutor’s objections.
One line refers to “DA objects to parole.” It does provide details of the crime, but
also says the pardon and parole board failed to even interview Hill because of
staffing shortages. While the board
failed to pass along the prosecutor’s letter, they included a two-page letter
of recommendation from Lane.
“This is somebody, I as a district
attorney sent this man in. I am putting
my name along side him. I walked with him in prison. I will walk with him
outside prison. I am going to see to his
success, because he is a man who wants to be successful,” Lane said. Lane says his involvement in the case was
limited to asking for and supporting a commutation. Lane says he didn’t take the recommendation
lightly and believes, despite the current controversy, Hill deserves his second
chance. “I think the six, seven years he
spent; I think he got the point. And now
I’m walking alongside to make sure he's flying right and I believe he will.”
says he testified for Hill during a public meeting and says the district
attorneys office was notified because they were there to testify as an
objecting party. Lane says he believed
Hill was on a commutation docket, because he was ineligible for parole because
he committed and 85% crime. However Lane
was unaware the Pardon and Parole Board agendas contain no reference to a
commutation docket. Those agendas also
do not include the names of any of the inmates scheduled for early release
consideration. Lane says, as a former
prosecutor he agrees the pardon and parole process should be as open as
possible to victims are aware of the status of offenders. “We were very
strong victim advocates and I know that has not changed.”
Lane says Hill has been a model citizen and works two jobs
since his release. He believes he is the
perfect example of inmates who were truly reformed by prison and deserves a new
chance to succeed. “I made the right decision sending him to prison and i made
the right decision seeking his commutation.” To that end, Lane says he continues to meet
with Hill after his release and makes sure he has the proper support both
emotionally and spiritually.
In the end, Hill and the other inmates released by the
Pardon and Parole Board may not be free and clear. There is an ongoing criminal investigation
into whether or not the intentionally violated the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act
by creating a criminally vague agenda item to hide inmate releases from the
public. If the board is found to have
acted illegally, all the inmates they released could be put back in prison to
serve the remainder of their sentences.
Posted: Thursday, August 9 2012, 10:05 PM CDT
IN OKLAHOMA NEWS
Tennessee sends search and rescue team to Oklahoma
May 21, 2013 16:19 GMT
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- A Tennessee-based team of emergency service workers has gone to Oklahoma to help with tornado recovery.
Memphis Fire Department spokesman Wayne Cooke said that Tennessee Task Force 1 left early Tuesday from Memphis.
Cooke says the 80-member team will mostly help with search and rescue efforts after powerful and deadly tornadoes struck cities in Oklahoma on Sunday and Monday. Emergency crews are digging through the rubble of destroyed structures to find trapped people.
The team is bringing search dogs and semi-trailers loaded with equipment to help dig through collapsed structures and perform other duties. Cooke says the team consists of emergency personnel from around Tennessee.
The task force was one of several teams that deployed to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy last October.
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