OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board narrowly voted Wednesday to recommend sparing the life of a man set to be executed later this month for what he claims were the self-defense killings of two men in Oklahoma City in 2001.
The board voted 3-2 to recommend clemency for Phillip Dean Hancock, who has long maintained he shot and killed Robert Jett Jr., 37, and James Lynch, 58, in self-defense after the two men attacked him. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt must now decide whether to grant clemency to Hancock, who is scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Nov. 30.
The board's decision came after it heard from Hancock, 59, his attorneys, lawyers from the state and members of Jett and Lynch's families. Two Republican state legislators who say they strongly support the death penalty, Reps. Kevin McDugle and Justin Humphrey, also testified on Hancock's behalf.
“If any one of us were in that same exact situation ... we would have fought for our lives,” said McDugle, R-Broken Arrow.
Hancock's attorneys claim that Jett and Lynch were members of outlaw motorcycle gangs who lured Hancock, who was unarmed, to Jett's home and that Jett ordered him to get inside a large cage before swinging a metal bar at him. After Jett and Lynch attacked him, Hancock managed to take Jett's pistol from him and shoot them both.
Hancock's attorneys also argued that his trial attorney has admitted he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction at the time of the trial and did not properly represent Hancock.
But attorneys for the state argued Hancock gave shifting accounts of what exactly happened and that his testimony didn't align with the physical evidence at the scene. Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lockett said the jury took all of this into account before rendering its verdict, which has been upheld by numerous state and federal appeals courts.
“Hancock's credibility was absolutely eviscerated at trial because his claims conflicted with the evidence,” Lockett said.
Lockett also said after Hancock shot Jett inside the house, a witness who was at the scene testified Hancock followed Jett into the backyard and heard a wounded Jett say: “I'm going to die.” Hancock responded, “Yes, you are," before shooting him again, Lockett said.
“Chasing someone down, telling them you are about to kill them and then doing it is not self-defense,” Lockett said.
Jett's brother, Ryan Jett, was among several family members who testified and urged the panel not to recommend clemency.
“I don't claim that my brother was an angel by any means, but he didn't deserve to die in the backyard like a dog,” Ryan Jett said.
Hancock also was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in a separate shooting in 1982 in which he also claimed self defense. He served less than three years of a four-year sentence in that case.
Hancock, who testified Wednesday via a video link from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, said he arrived at the home “unarmed and unsuspecting” and that he was terrified when an armed Jett ordered him into a cage.
“Please understand the awful situation I found myself in,” Hancock said. “I have no doubt they would have killed me. They forced me to fight for my life.”
Stitt has granted clemency only one time, in 2021, to death row inmate Julius Jones, commuting his sentence to life without parole just hours before Jones was scheduled to receive a lethal injection. Stitt has denied clemency recommendations from the board in two other cases: Bigler Stouffer and James Coddington, both of whom were later executed.