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John O’Connor’s short stint as Oklahoma Attorney General will soon come to an end. The hand-picked Stitt appointee failed to clinch the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s primary. O’Connor lost the nomination to Tulsa-based attorney Gentner Drummond by roughly 6,000 votes.
Since joining the Stitt administration in 2021, O’Connor selection for the role has been at the center of controversy. O’Connor has long been a personal friend to Stitt, with the Governor describing him as “a mentor”. Stitt selected O’Connor after the Senate declined to move his nomination for a federal judgeship by President Trump forward. The American Bar Association at the time deemed O’Connor to be “unqualified’ for the role after “researching his experience, ethics and competence”.
A few months into his time as Attorney General, O’Connor was working to advance executions and upend the work of the state’s pardon and parole board.
In the fall of 2021, Julius Jones’s case was garnering widespread national attention. Jones was wrongfully sentenced to death for the murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell when he was just 19. Jones maintained his innocence for more than two decades. His family members and community leaders pushed for the Governor to spare his life.
By early November, the state’s Pardon and Parole Board had twice voted that the Governor should grant clemency and commute Jones’ sentence to ‘life with the possibility of parole’.
Stitt, however, was not acting as the execution date drew nearer.
O’Connor attempted to influence independent Pardon and Parole Board process to have Julius Jones executed
Investigative reporting by The Black Wall Street Times learned that O’Connor was actively pressing Governor Stitt to execute Julius Jones.
A source familiar with the issue said O’Connor indicated he “felt pretty confident the execution would happen because of his advice to the governor and the way the governor listens to him.”
They told the BWSTimes O’Connor’s reasoning “doesn’t seem like it’s connected to the guilt or innocence of Julius Jones”.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General also confirmed O’Connor was encouraging Stitt to proceed with the execution.
“The Attorney General is very disappointed with the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation,” the spokesperson said. “Our office will continue to advocate for the jurors’ sentence.”
O’Connor’s push on the Governor came as he sought to reportedly “delay and disrupt” the Board’s proceedings in an effort to ensure the execution took place.
In October of 2021, O’Connor attempted to have two pro-clemency members of the Pardon and Parole Board removed. O’Connor wrote to the State Supreme Court and urged them to remove the members “before the currently scheduled clemency hearing”.
These efforts by O’Connor were so egregious that those two board members requested the Oklahoma Supreme Court sanction the Attorney General. Even Republicans from the Trump White House called O’Connor’s actions “troubling pressure tactics“.
O’Connor’s loss a larger indicator of dissatisfaction with Stitt administration among Republicans
In Summer 2021, O’Connor seemed all but certain to clinch victory and secure a first full term. His defeat in Tuesday’s primary is just one of many signs that the Stitt administration has fallen out of favor with many Republicans.
Stitt’s hand-picked Secretary of Education failed to win his primary for State Superintendent outright. Ryan Walters must face April Grace in an August runoff. Walters has repeatedly come under fire for spending his time attacking school boards and districts across the state. Most recently, Walters accused Tulsa Public Schools of pushing an agenda of “indoctrination”. When pressed by local reporters to cite examples of “indoctrination” in schools, however, Walters couldn’t.
While Stitt won his primary outright, he only received support from roughly 2/3 of Republican voters. His predecessor, Mary Fallin, who was deeply unpopular by the time she left office, won nomination for a second term in 2014 with over 75% of the vote.