Federal Officials Refuse to Transfer Prisoner to Oklahoma for Execution

A federal prison warden has denied an Oklahoma District Attorney’s request to transfer John Fitzgerald Hanson (pictured) to Oklahoma’s custody to be executed, stating that the transfer “is not in the public’s best interest.” Hanson is incarcerated at a federal prison in Louisiana.

In 2000, Hanson was sentenced by the federal government to life in prison plus 107 years for a series of armed robberies. He was later sentenced to death in Tulsa County, Oklahoma for the 1999 murders of Mary Bowles and Jerald Thurman. Hanson’s co-defendant, Victor Miller, was the ringleader of the crime, but Miller’s death sentence was overturned and he is now serving a life sentence. Hanson’s death sentence was also overturned, but he was resentenced to death. Oklahoma has scheduled Hanson’s execution for December 15, 2022.

In August 2022, Tulsa County District Attorney Stephen A. Kunzweiler requested that Hanson be transferred to state custody so he can be executed. On September 28, Acting Complex Warden S.R. Grant replied that federal law “authorizes the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to transfer a prisoner who is wanted by a State authority to that State authority’s custody if it is appropriate, suitable, and in the public’s best interest. The Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) has denied the request for transfer, as it is not in the public’s best interest.”

Kunzweiler sought the intervention of Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, who wrote to BOP Regional Director Heriberto Tellez, requesting a response by October 24. O’Connor noted that the transfer request was also intended to facilitate Hanson’s attendance at his November 9 clemency hearing. Nowhere in the letter did O’Connor challenge the BOP’s assertion that Hanson’s transfer is not in the public’s best interest. The letter did not specify the actions O’Connor would take after the deadline he imposed.

Federal officials did not indicate whether the denial of the transfer is related to the moratorium on federal executions that was announced in June 2021. President Biden expressed his opposition to the death penalty during his campaign, and Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on June 30, 2021 that the administration would put federal executions on hold in order to review policies adopted under the Trump administration. One statement by Garland could potentially explain the BOP’s action, as he applied the rationale of the moratorium to all prisoners in the federal system, saying, “The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely. That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

Hanson is one of 25 people for whom the state of Oklahoma set execution dates in July 2022, with the executions set to be carried out over a two-year period. Hanson’s attorneys say he has multiple mental illnesses, brain damage, and autism.