Two of the five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which considers the clemency petitions of the state’s death row prisoners, have resigned. Board chairman Richard Smothermon and member Cathy Stocker both announced that the board’s August 2023 meeting would be their last. Governor Kevin Stitt has appointed former District Attorney Kevin Buchanan to replace Ms. Stocker, while Mr. Smothermon’s replacement will be selected by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. 

Tom Bates, the director of the Pardon and Parole Board, said of the resignations, “People need to understand that it is hard, emotionally taxing work.” Ms. Stocker noted in her resignation letter that her service on the board “has not been a good fit” with other obligations, and that, “To do this job justice takes a lot of time each month.”   

The board has had to consider a clemency petition from a prisoner facing execution nearly every month since the state set a schedule of 25 executions beginning in August 2022. Shortly after taking office in January 2023, Attorney General Gentner Drummond asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to slow the pace of executions, explaining that the original schedule “is unduly burdening the DOC and its personnel.” Oklahoma News 9 Legal Analyst Irven Box described a similar burden on the board members, saying, “It’s five members deciding who lives, who dies, does somebody get commutation, does somebody not get commutation. … From reading between the lines on the letters from both of them, I think they’re ready to get that pressure off them and go on and pursue their life.” 

Along with its consideration of death row clemency petitions, the board handles “hundreds of cases each month,” Mr. Bates said. The board has recently received increased attention as it heard the clemency petitions of prisoners facing execution, including the high-profile case of Richard Glossip. Mr. Smothermon recused himself from consideration of Mr. Glossip’s case because of a conflict of interest. Mr. Glossip’s clemency petition was denied on a 2-2 vote. “It really put Richard at an extreme disadvantage,” said Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane. “The justice system is supposed to work the same for everybody and everybody else gets five people.”

In 2022, Gov. Stitt requested the resignation of board chairman Adam Luck because of their differing beliefs on the death penalty.