Prayer vigil planned for Oklahoma death-row inmate scheduled to die Aug. 25

TULSA, Okla. (CNS) — The Diocese of Tulsa joined calls by a coalition of faith leaders and others for the Oklahoma governor to commute the death sentence of James Allen Coddington, 50, scheduled to die by lethal injection Aug. 25 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

An announcement issued midday Aug. 24 said Gov. Kevin Stitt rejected clemency for Coddington, who was sentenced to death in 2003 for killing a 73-year-old man with a hammer in 1997 when the inmate was 24.

Father Bryan Brooks, Tulsa’s diocesan vicar for priests, said in an Aug. 23 statement that if Stitt did not commute the sentence, “there will be a peaceful prayer vigil near the front gate of the penitentiary in opposition to capital punishment” beginning at 9 a.m. (local time).

It “will conclude with news received that the execution has taken place,” the priest said. The execution was scheduled for 10 a.m.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City also had urged Stitt to commute Coddington’s death sentence.

“Executions perpetuate cycles of violence and provide no opportunity of healing for victims’ families,” Archbishop Coakley said. “We are reminded that our Lord declared as blessed those who are merciful, ‘for they shall receive mercy.’ I call on Gov. Stitt to affirm the recommendation of the (State) Pardon and Parole Board for clemency for James Coddington.”

The parole board had voted 3-2 for the commutation after an Aug. 2 clemency hearing.

Coddington’s attorneys presented evidence of an abusive childhood. Coddington’s mother was imprisoned when he was a toddler, leaving him to be raised by a drug and alcohol-addicted father who put alcohol in his baby bottles.

Coddington was a cocaine addict whose drug use started in childhood, his attorneys said at the hearing.

A petition supported by the staff at the state penitentiary, including a former head of the Department of Corrections, stated that Coddington has been a model inmate and had worked to redeem himself.

In his nearly two decades on death row, Coddington exhausted his appeals in state and federal courts. He also was part of a failed lawsuit in federal court over the use of drugs used by the state to carry out executions.

He was convicted and sentenced to death in August 2003 for the 1997 Oklahoma County murder of Albert “Al” Hale. His sentence was overturned on appeal in 2005, only to be reinstated in 2008.

Hale was Coddington’s friend and a co-worker at a salvation yard. Coddington was spending up to $1,000 per day to support his cocaine habit. Before he went to Hale’s home, he had robbed a convenience store earlier in the day for money.

He asked Hale to lend him $50 and smoked crack cocaine in the bathroom.

Hale was known to have a large amount of cash at his residence in Choctaw, Oklahoma. He had previously loaned Coddington money and also had helped him get drug treatment, but he refused to give him money this time to buy cocaine and urged him to go back to treatment.

Prosecutors said Coddington became enraged and grabbed a claw hammer from a kitchen table and struck Hale at least three times in the head. Hale died of his injuries the next day. Coddington took $525 from the house. After the attack, he robbed five more convenience stores for drug money.

Arrested two days later, Coddington attempted suicide. He confessed to both the convenience store robberies and Hale’s murder.

During the Aug. 2 clemency hearing before the parole board, Coddington apologized to Hale’s family and said he was a different man today, according to news reports.

Described as emotional, Coddington said: “I’m clean. I know God, I’m not … a vicious murderer. If this ends today with my death sentence, OK.”

Public Radio Tulsa reported that Trisha Allen, a former robbery victim of Coddington, submitted a sworn affidavit to the governor in support of clemency after speaking with Coddington by phone.

“During our call, Mr. Coddington apologized for his actions against me,” Allen wrote. “I believe his apology was genuine and I truly believe he is remorseful.”

Besides the prayer vigil planned near the front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the Tulsa Diocese said a vigil would be held at St. Joseph Monastery in Tulsa and Holy Innocents Chapel in Oklahoma City.

St. Scholastica Chapel at the Church of St. Benedict in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, planned to be open all day for prayer the day of Coddington’s execution.