State sues feds for death row inmate's transfer

Oct. 27—Oklahoma prosecutors sued the federal government over a denial to transfer a federal prisoner into state custody to be executed in December.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor and District 14 District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed the lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas on Monday against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and two directors.

John Fitzgerald Hanson was convicted and sentenced to death in Tulsa County District Court for the deaths of 77-year-old Mary Bowles and 44-year-old Jerald Thurman and is scheduled to be executed Dec. 15.

Hanson is serving a life sentence plus 107 years in a Louisiana federal prison for a series of armed robberies he committed after the murders, records show.

Kunzweiler and O'Connor requested the transfer of Hanson, aka George John Hanson, into state custody in order for his state sentence to be executed were denied by federal; authorities because the transfer "was not in the public interest."

Acting Complex Warden S.R. Grant did not detail the reason for denying the transfer in federal filings, but referred to federal statute that states a prisons director can approve such a transfer if it is in public interest.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice ordered a moratorium in June on federal executions.

Records show Hanson and another man carjacked Bowles at a Tulsa mall and took her to a work site where Thurman was working before the man he was with killed Thurman and Hanson shot Bowles several times.

Hanson is serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Louisiana after being convicted for several robberies involving a firearm that occurred after the murders.

Kunzweiler made the initial request to the federal Bureau of Prisons Aug. 4 for Hanson to be transferred into the state's custody for the execution of his state sentence. The BOP denied the request in a letter dated Sept. 28, stating "it is not in the public's best interest."

O'Connor sent a letter dated Oct. 14 to BOP Regional Director Heriberto Tellaz, seeking confirmation of the denial and made a second request for Hanson to be transferred prior to Hanson's Nov. 9 clemency hearing.

Tellaz responded Oct. 17 stating "inmate Hanson is presently subject to a life term imposed in federal court" and that his transfer to Oklahoma "for state execution is not in the public interest."

State authorities argue in the lawsuit that the federal government's denial to transfer Hanson in the name of public interest "would mean that Hanson will never face justice for his murder of Bowles" and "if Hanson is transferred, state and federal justice will both be achieved."

Prosecutors argue federal statue mandates transfer to the state for the execution to be carried out and the argument of public interest is not valid in the matter and is in violation "of the laws of the United States."

"Hanson's execution by the State of Oklahoma is consistent with any public interest in seeing that Hanson never be released from custody during his lifetime," the lawsuit states. "The public spoke loud and clear when the jury sentenced Hanson to death for ending Bowles' life; their voice—their interest—should be heeded."

The lawsuit states the Northern District of Texas is the proper venue for the lawsuit to be filed due to being halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas where the BOP regional offices are located.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor has been assigned the case. O'Connor is known for his previous rulings in favor of Republicans on the Affordable Care Act, gun control, same-sex marriages, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

O'Connor granted a request to expedite briefings and ordered a responsde from the BOP no later than Nov. 2.

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