Parole process futile, execution senseless

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Aug. 25—James Coddington told his spiritual advisor minutes before his execution that he was disappointed turning his life around made no difference.

Coddington, in his final statement before being executed Thursday, forgave Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt for rejecting the state parole board’s recommendation to grant him clemency for killing Albert Hale in 1997.

Rev. Don Heath, Coddington’s spiritual advisor, called the parole process futile and said Coddington changed his life in the 25 years since his imprisonment.

“This was a gentle caring man,” Heath told the News-Capital. “It was senseless to kill him.”

Coddington was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003 and received a death sentence in the 1997 murder of Hale, a 73-year-old who had befriended and worked with Coddington.

Prosecutors said Coddington was on cocaine when he asked Hale to loan him money for more drugs, but Hale refused and Coddington beat him in the head with a hammer.

Heath, also chairman of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Coddington turned his life around in prison — and voiced frustration from the death chamber that it didn’t matter in the final hour before his execution.

“He was talking about how he didn’t understand why Stitt didn’t even give a reason for denying clemency,” Heath said.

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Coddington also requested forgiveness, expressed his love for his fiancé and her children and his family members, and thanked Heath and attorneys.

Heath is a practicing attorney who co-pastors the Edmond Trinity Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with his wife. He said several people with various backgrounds reached out to him this week in support of Coddington.

“There’s a community out there,” Heath said. “This doesn’t speak for the state of Oklahoma.”

Protestors blew a shofar and rang a bell outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester before Coddington became the first of Oklahoma’s plan to execute 25 death-row inmates through December 2024.

Members of anti-death penalty groups and faith leaders gathered outside the prison to hold vigil for Coddington.

For Whom The Bells Toll, a national project Sister Dorothy Briggs founded in the 1990s to oppose executions, started ringing a large bell outside the prison gates at the scheduled execution time.

Abraham Bonowitz, executive director of Death Penalty Action, said the project’s name comes from the John Donne poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Bonowitz helped revive the project this year and brought the bell that protestors previously tolled during executions at prisons nationwide.

“Sometimes, in some places, it can be actually heard inside the prison,” Bonowitz said. “And along with the shofar, it is literally calling for justice from the heavens.”

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Rev. Janie Koch, of the All Saints Episcopal Church in McAlester, joined the protestors and called for unity.

“For all our differences, our faith, our politics, and where we live, we are human,” Koch said. “We are unified in the community of our humanity and life is precious.”

She said executions also wrought collateral damage.

“While James Coddington is no longer on this planet, there are others who are in grief,” Koch said. “For the victim’s family, for James’ family; there is collateral damage and execution is not right and needs to be stopped. There are other ways and we as the community of humanity need to explore those other ways.”

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com

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