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Oklahoma sues Biden admin. to force execution of federal prisoner

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor
Oklahoma sues Biden admin. to force execution of federal prisoner john fitzgerald hanson oklahoma attorney general
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Oklahoma’s outgoing attorney general, who was rated unqualified by a committee of the American Bar Association, has filed a lawsuit demanding the federal government transfer a prisoner to state custody for a December 15 execution.

John Fitzgerald Hanson, 58, is serving a life sentence plus 107 years in the U.S. Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana for a series of armed robberies. Yet, an Oklahoma jury sentenced Hanson to death in 2001 for a 1999 double-murder in north Tulsa County, according to the Tulsa World.

In the conservative, “small-government” state of Oklahoma, prosecutors believe state-sanctioned murder equates to justice, and they’re willing to sue the federal Bureau of Prisons to prove it.


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. (Death Penalty Information Center)

In a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Oct. 25, outgoing Oklahoma Republican Attorney General John O’Connor argues that “state and federal justice will both be achieved” if the federal government switches Hanson’s life sentence to a state execution.

Biden Administration denies Oklahoma attorneys’ request to transfer federal prisoner John Hanson

In late September, the Bureau of Prisons denied a request from Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler to transfer Hanson to state custody for the Dec.15 execution date. It would mark another of 25 execution dates that outgoing Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has scheduled for each month for the next few years.

The denied request comes after Oklahoma reignited the death penalty in 2021 after a nearly seven-year halt had been placed on the practice. Former Republican Gov. Mary Fallin issued the state moratorium following several botched executions in 2014 and 2015. 

Despite Gov Stitt’s decision to allow AG O’Connor to restart executions last year, Oklahoma has failed to follow the recommendations put forward by a death penalty review commission in 2017.

“(The law) authorizes the Bureau of Prisons 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,” read a letter from the Bureau of Prisons obtained by legal newsletter Law Dork

“The Designation and Sentence Computation Center … has denied the request for transfer, as it is not in the public’s best interest.”

Tulsa DA recruits Oklahoma attorney general to force federal prisoner transfer to state custody

That didn’t sit well with the “outraged” DA Kunzweiler. He defended his desire for death by pointing out the taxpayer expense of keeping Hanson alive in federal custody.

“Of what reasonable purpose is there for him to remain in federal custody — at taxpayers’ expense — when he can and should be delivered to Oklahoma authorities for the rendition of the punishment he received here?” Kunzweiler wrote in a press release in October, Tulsa World reported.

Determined to move forward with the execution of Hanson, who was convicted for the kidnapping and murders of Mary Bowles and Jerald Thurman in 1999, DA Kunzweiler sought out the state’s outgoing Attorney General John O’Connor for assistance.

On Oct. 14, AG O’Connor requested that the Bureau of Prisons reconsider its denial in a letter sent to the federal agency.

He argued “Transfer to state custody is necessary” because Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals has already scheduled a Nov. 9 clemency hearing and Dec. 15 execution date.

AG O’Connor gave the federal agency a deadline of Monday, Oct 24 to respond. 

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Oklahoma attorney general filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons Director, Regional Director, and the Acting Complex Warden of FCC Pollock.

Oklahoma’s lawsuit appears to test Biden administration’s stance on death penalty

In the lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern Division of Texas–Wichita Falls Division, AG O’Connor argues the public has a “compelling interest in timely enforcement of the death penalty in order to prevent harm to families and communities of the victims from undue delay.”

It often takes decades for a death row prisoner to be executed, if at all.

In the filing, the Oklahoma attorney general refers to the death penalty as “retributive justice”. He argues that the feds haven’t given enough valid reasons for denying Hanson be returned to state custody.

Meanwhile, the federal Bureau of Prisons so far hasn’t given a reason for their denial aside from claiming it is not within the public’s interest.

While the Biden Administration’s Justice Department issued a moratorium on federal executions in 2021 following Trump’s legal killing spree, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is considering the death penalty in the case of the white supremacist who massacred Black people in Buffalo, NY.

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