Oklahoma executes James Coddington, the fifth death row inmate to be killed since the state resumed capital punishment
Updated: August 25 at 10:23 a.m.
For the third time in 2022 and just the fifth time in seven years, Oklahoma has executed a death row inmate.
James Allen Coddington was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 10:16 a.m. Thursday morning. He's the fifth death row inmate to be killed since the state resumed capital punishment in October 2021 after a six-year moratorium. He was 50.
Coddington was convicted for the 1997 murder of his friend Albert Troy Hale in Choctaw, after Hale refused to loan Coddington $50 to buy drugs. Coddington told police he had been high on cocaine for three days when he robbed at least six convenience stores and killed Hale.
Five media members were selected by a random draw to witness the execution: Sean Murphy (Associated Press), Nolan Clay (The Oklahoman), Chris Polansky (KWGS), Augusta McDonnell (News 9) and Amanda Gilbert (Fox 23).
The witnesses didn’t note any major issues with the execution. They did say Coddington’s breathing was somewhat more labored than past executions, but not dramatically so.
In his final words, Coddington addressed his my family and friends, and said he didn’t blame Stitt and forgave him for not granting the recommended clemency. Media witnesses and the victim’s family noted that despite expressing remorse in his clemency hearing, he did not do so in his final words.
Mitchell Hale, the son of the victim, gave a statement following the execution.
“Today is not a good day, it’s not a bad day. It’s just a new day for our family. We can finally move on. It’s not going to heal anything, but it closes this chapter,” said Hale. “This is finally over. That’s the only thing we wanted, was just everything to stop.”
Oklahoma plans to execute 24 more death row inmates between now and Dec. 2024.
A call to end the death penalty in Oklahoma
More than a dozen members of various faith communities came together at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Wednesday to pray for an end to the death penalty and for Stitt to reverse his decision to deny clemency for death row inmate James Coddington.
Rev. Dr. Shannon Fleck from the Oklahoma Conference of Churches says she and those gathered are disturbed by the 25 executions scheduled to take place over the next two years.
“In our opinion, that is state sanctioned killing, which is against everything the Governor has reported to stand for on the grounds of his faith,” said Fleck.
Death Penalty Action and partners delivered a petition signed by over 6,000 people to stop Coddington’s execution.
After the execution on Thursday, a conservative organization held a press conference at the State Capitol and called for Oklahoma lawmakers to reconsider their stance on the death penalty.
Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a national organization advocating for the end of capital punishment, announced it is launching a chapter in Oklahoma.
The organization is also calling for a new moratorium on the death penalty and says state officials have ignored the advice of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission.
Adam Luck, former chairman of the state Pardon and Parole Board, challenged elected officials to reexamine their beliefs and to read the commission’s report.
“The stakes are too high for us all not to apply the highest levels of intellectual integrity and moral aspirations when deciding whether or not to use the death penalty and whether or not we want the state of Oklahoma killing in our name,” said Luck.
On Twitter the day before, Luck declared the pardon and parole process broken and called for the end of executions in Oklahoma.
“This is one of the most conservative iterations of this board. All five members have previous careers in law enforcement. Two District Attorneys, one warden, one retired police officer, and one retired federal probation officer. Even still clemency was recommended 3-2,” said Luck.
Luck continued, “From what was said in the hearing this clemency recommendation was made for the purest reason clemency exists: grace. This reasoning as the sole basis for a clemency recommendation is very unusual. So, for this board to have recommended clemency at all, much less for the reasons they did was exceptionally rare. And yet this recommendation was ignored. If clemency was not granted in this case, it will not be in any other recommendation that makes it to the governor.”
Luck, who served on the Pardon and Parole Board from 2019 to 2022, resigned earlier this year at the request of the Governor. In his resignation letter, he noted differing beliefs between himself and Stitt over executions.
Death row inmate James Coddington will be the next of Oklahoma’s death row inmates to be executed on Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt denied the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board's clemency recommendation for life without the possibility of parole.
Coddington is on death row for the 1997 murder of his friend Albert Troy Hale in Choctaw, after Hale refused to loan Coddington $50 to buy drugs. Coddington told police he had been high on cocaine for three days when he robbed at least six convenience stores and killed Hale.
The 50-year-old is the first in a string of dozens of death row inmates scheduled for execution over the next two years. Those executions were scheduled after a federal judge ruled in June that Oklahoma's controversial three-drug lethal injection protocol is constitutional.
Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board
Stitt has only granted clemency to one death row inmate — Julius Jones. In November 2021, he commuted Jones' death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The executive order is conditional on Jones never being "eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life."
The Pardon and Parole Board also recommended clemency for Bigler Stouffer that same month, but Stitt rejected that recommendation and denied him clemency.
In May 2022, a grand jury report deemed Stitt's actions with potential members of the Pardon and Parole Board as "grossly improper." The report said "improper political pressure was placed upon some board members" and pointed to a meeting Stitt had with people he ultimately appointed to the board. That meeting included discussions of upcoming votes and the dismissal of the agency's then-director.
That same report concluded the board cut corners and ignored proceses in order to get a large amount of people onto commutation dockets.
Stitt's office called the report a "sham."
The governor appoints three of the five members of the Pardon and Parole Board, and Williams, Konieczny and Stocker were all appointed by Stitt. The latter two were appointed earlier this year, following the resignations of Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle. Luck, who served on the board since 2019, resigned at the request of the governor. In his resignation letter, Luck noted differing beliefs between himself and Stitt over executions.
A torturous history
For years, executions in Oklahoma have been gruesome and filled with protocol violations.
In October 2021, in the state's first execution in seven years, John Grant convulsed and vomited repeatedly after being administered the three-drug cocktail. But, the late 2021 and early 2022 executions of three inmates — Stouffer, Donald Grant and Gilbert Postelle — were all reported by witnesses to happen without any complications.
Executions had been on pause in Oklahoma following the near-execution of Richard Glossip in 2015, and the botched lethal injections of Charles Warner in 2015 and Clayton Lockett in 2014.
Glossip was scheduled to die in September 2015, but then-Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a last-minute stay of execution after it was discovered the Department of Corrections received a shipment of potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, as required in the state's execution protocol.
An autopsy report revealed the state used the wrong drug — again, potassium acetate — to execute Warner in January 2015. According to witnesses, Warner said, "It feels like acid," and "My body is on fire" while being given the three-drug cocktail.
Lockett's April 2014 execution was also botched. A report issued after his death found that after trying for 51 minutes to find a vein, a phlebotomist misplaced the IV line intended to deliver the lethal cocktail of drugs directly into Lockett's bloodstream. Instead, the cocktail was delivered to the surrounding tissue.
Lockett writhed on the gurney and mumbled before being pronounced dead 43 minutes after the procedure began. An investigation later revealed that the faulty insertion of the intravenous line and lack of training of the execution team contributed to the problems.
In January 2014, Oklahoma executed Michael Lee Wilson by lethal injection. Shortly after his execution started, Wilson's final words were, "I feel my whole body burning."