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Oklahoma executed Phillip Hancock (pictured) on November 30, 2023, following Governor Kevin Stitt’s rejection of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation that his sentence be f commuted to life without parole. The governor’s indecision left Mr. Hancock waiting anxiously right up to the time of his scheduled execution when the governor’s office told the prison warden to proceed.  Mr. Hancock is the 123rd person executed in Oklahoma since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. His execution is also the fourth execution in Oklahoma this year and the final execution of 2023.

Mr. Hancock’s attorneys did not seek any last-minute stays from the United States Supreme Court but released a statement following his execution. “We are profoundly sad that Oklahoma executed Phil for protecting himself from a violent attack. This was a clear case of self-defense and the Governor and the state ignored a wealth of evidence showing that Phil was fighting for his life. He fought to stay out of a cage to defend his life only to be caged and tragically killed by the state,” said attorney Shawn Nolan. Representative Kevin McDugle also released a statement following Mr. Hancock’s execution. “Phillip Hancock should never have been sentenced to death for defending himself against a violent, unprovoked attack. Any of us would have fought to stay out of that terrifying cage… Yet Phil was sentenced to death for this act of self-defense, and today, Oklahoma executed him for it. Phil’s execution is simply not justice,” said Rep. McDugle. 

On November 8, 2023, the Oklahoma Pardons and Parole Board voted 3-2 to recommend clemency for Mr. Hancock after hearing evidence that supported his claim of self-defense. At his clemency hearing, Mr. Hancock told the board that he “was in a life-or-death situation” and the victims “forced [him] to fight for [his] life.” Mr. Hancock took responsibility for taking the lives of two individuals but maintained he did so because of the threat to his own life. Mr. Hancock’s attorneys argued that he was lured to a biker’s house, where two men attempted to put him in a metal cage and bludgeon him with a metal pipe. Mr. Hancock told the Board that amidst a struggle, he took control of one of the victim’s firearms and shot both men. “I absolutely regret with all of my heart that those men died as a result of the nightmare situation that they themselves created… I did what I had to do to save my life,” Mr. Hancock told the board.

Several Republican-state legislators supported Mr. Hancock at his clemency hearing including Rep. McDugle, who told the Board that “if someone tries to put [him] in a cage, if someone tries to swing a pipe at [him], somebody’s going to die that day.” Prior to Mr. Hancock’s clemency hearing, Representative Justin “JJ” Humphrey told the press at a news conference that he adamantly supports one’s right to defend himself and that Mr. Hancock’s actions should not have led to capital murder charges. Rep. Humphrey said that in Oklahoma, “we let you loose [for self-defense], we don’t even charge you… We as Oklahomans have a right to defend ourselves.”

In a statement from Rep. Humphrey, he echoed his colleague’s frustration: “I’m very disappointed the governor did not follow the recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board to grant clemency to [Mr. Hancock].” The Pardons and Parole Board has recommended clemency just three other times since Oklahoma resumed executions in 2021 (Bigler Stouffer, James Coddington, and Julius Jones). Gov. Stitt accepted only one of these recommendations, granting clemency to Julius Jones in November 2021, just four hours before his scheduled execution. He granted Mr. Jones’ commutation “on the condition that [Mr. Jones] shall never again be eligible to apply for, be considered for, or receive any additional commutation, pardon, or parole.”