Prosecutors respond to Oklahoma death row inmate's motion

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Jul. 30—The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office argues that a death row inmate's request for an attorney present with a cell phone during the execution process could possibly lead to "the country's first livestreamed execution."

James Coddington, 50, is scheduled to be put to death Aug. 25 and is the first to be executed as part of Oklahoma's two-year phased schedule to execute 25 prisoners the state claims have exhausted their appeals.

He was sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of 73-year-old Albert Troy Hale at a residence in Oklahoma County. Prosecutors say Coddington beat Hale in the head with a hammer and robbed him after Hale refused to loan Coddington money to buy cocaine.

Coddington's attorneys filed for a stay of execution with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals claiming the state's lethal injection protocol violates Coddington's "First, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights to counsel and the courts."

According to the motion, the protocol terminates communication with counsel two hours or more prior to the scheduled execution time and blocks counsel from witnessing the entire process.

"These measures prevent Mr. Coddington from communicating constitutional violations to his counsel and prevent counsel from observing or intervening in problems that may arise during the execution process, including problems setting and maintaining IV access, or problems with the use of an incorrect drug," the motion states.

The motion states without the ability for Coddington to access counsel up to the moment of execution, he is unable to file an Eighth Amendment claim.

"Moreover, plaintiffs have a right to access the courts up until the moment of their deaths," the motion states.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office argues that there is no right to counsel to search for hypothetical grievances and that counsel are not doctors, which could lead to a "circus" of lawyers and experts within the execution chamber.

"If this circus were permitted, the medical professionals on the execution team would almost certainly be hindered in implementing a safe process," the AG's office argues.

The AG's office also argues that allowing a cell phone into the execution chamber "would lead to the distinct possibility of the country's first livestreamed execution."

Attorneys for the AG's office also state that Coddington is not challenging his conviction and sentence.

"He will be condemned to die irrespective of the outcome of this litigation," the AG's office writes. "In this motion, he is not even challenging the method by which his executions will be carried out. Instead, he only complains that his lawyer will not be able to watch closely for last-second new claims during his inevitable execution."

A ruling on the stay was not filed as of press time Thursday.

Coddington's clemency hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday, July 26, was moved to Aug. 3 at 9 a.m. to meet the scheduling needs of a board member. An agenda filed by the board states Coddington will make an appearance via video conference.

If the board decides to recommend clemency, Gov. Kevin Stitt will have the final say to either accept or deny the board's recommendation.

Pardon and Parole hearings are held at the Kate Barnard Community Corrections Center, Ted R. Logan Meeting Center, located at 3300 N. Martin Luther King Ave. in Oklahoma City.

Meetings are also streamed live on Zoom with the meeting information available at www.ok.gov/ppb/.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com