Judge rules against Oklahoma in attempt to execute inmate

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday rejected Oklahoma’s attempt to have a federal prisoner transferred to state custody so he can be executed.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor denied Oklahoma’s request to have inmate John Fitzgerald Hanson, 58, transferred from federal custody to Oklahoma and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

Oklahoma sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons in October for refusing to turn over Hanson to state authorities, with federal officials saying at the time the transfer was “not in the public’s best interest.”

Oklahoma argued that federal prison officials acted beyond the scope of their authority, but the judge rejected that argument and wrote in his ruling that the Bureau of Prisons director has broad discretion over whether to refuse a transfer request based on his determination of the public interest.

Hanson was initially scheduled to receive a lethal injection on Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

He was sentenced to death in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, after he was convicted of carjacking, kidnapping and killing Mary Bowles, 77, after he and an accomplice kidnapped the woman from a Tulsa shopping mall. Hanson also is serving a life sentence for several federal convictions, including being a career criminal, that predate his state death sentence.

“We disagree with the court’s decision,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, who is not related to the judge, said in a statement. “It is in the public interest for John Hanson to face justice for the murder of Mary Bowles. We are evaluating our options going forward.”

The U.S. Justice Department under Democratic President Joe Biden — who has vowed to work to end the death penalty — announced last year that it was halting federal executions. That step came after a historic use of capital punishment under Donald Trump’s presidency, with 13 executions carried out in six months. The Bureau of Prisons’ refusal to turn over Hanson has raised questions about whether the agency is using its power to deliver on the president’s political pledge.

Messages left Tuesday with attorneys for the Bureau of Prisons were not immediately returned.

Oklahoma has put to death seven inmates since resuming executions in October 2021 and has scheduled 18 more executions in 2023 and 2024. The state had one of the nation’s busiest death chambers until problems in 2014 and 2015 led to a de facto moratorium. That included prison officials realizing they received the wrong lethal drug just hours away from executing Richard Glossip in September 2015. It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.

The drug mix-ups followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection — and after the state’s prisons chief ordered executioners to stop.

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