James Coddington, a 50-year-old man who turned his life around in prison over the last 25 years, was executed by Oklahoma last Wednesday, two weeks after the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 to recommend his death sentence be commuted to life without parole.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt denied Coddington’s request for clemency despite the parole board’s recommendation, a plea from one of Coddington’s victims, and an appeal by the former director of the state’s prisons, Justin Jones, who wrote in the Oklahoman, “His is a story . . . of a remarkable transformation. It would not be in the best interests of the state of Oklahoma to execute someone who manifests such redemption.”
Coddington was sentenced to death for killing his friend, 73-year-old Albert Troy Hale, in 1997. He was reportedly on a crack cocaine binge and had gone to Hale’s house to borrow money for more drugs. When Hale turned him down, Coddington killed him and stole $525.
His story is all-too-familiar among the men and women sentenced to death in the United States. Born to alcohol and drug-addicted parents, Coddington was subjected to horrific abuse by his father from the time he was born. KWGS Public Radio reported that Coddington’s lawyer, Emma Rolls, played a videotaped interview with Coddington’s mother from 2000, in which she recounted that he had been given alcohol from the time he was a young child and was severely beaten and abused by his father from the time he was a toddler.
But the crack cocaine-addicted 25-year-old who entered prison 25 years ago was a different man from the one killed by the state last week. He took full responsibility for killing Hale and expressed remorse for the crime. Coddington earned his GED while in prison and was such a model prisoner that he was appointed a Trustee/Orderly of his unit, an indication of his “trustworthiness, lack of violent tendencies and work ethic,” Jones wrote in the Oklahoman.
In Coddington’s clemency petition, Rolls wrote, “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. James exemplifies the principles of redemption.”
“Executing Coddington would be a grievous waste, a refusal to acknowledge the work he has done to transform himself and to be the best person he can be behind bars,” Jones wrote in his editorial.
But when deciding whether to grant Coddington mercy, Gov. Stitt, a Christian, who says God called him to run for governor, refused to acknowledge Coddington’s redemption and ordered his execution to proceed on schedule.
Coddington was the first of 25 men the state intends to kill over the next two-and-a-half years. The following 24 are scheduled for approximately once a month until December 5, 2024.