Biden administration sued for transfer denial of death row inmate

Oklahoma officials are accusing the federal government of playing politics with its refusal to transfer a death row inmate scheduled to face execution in December to state custody.

The state is now suing the Biden administration to ensure he is handed over.

John Hanson, 58, is scheduled to be executed for the 1999 murders of Mary Bowles and Jerald Thurman. He is currently being held at the Federal Correctional Complex in Pollock, Louisiana, and has a last-ditch Nov. 9 clemency hearing in Oklahoma.

However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has said handing Hanson over to state authorities “is not in the public interest.” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said no one has explained to him why Hanson is being withheld but cited the Biden administration’s stance on the death penalty.

“It smacks of politics,” he said. “They’ve not outlawed the death penalty, but they’re certainly not allowing any action on that. OK, fine, if that’s what you want to do at the federal level, but this is a state case. They’re usurping state authority.”

In 2000, Hanson was sentenced to life in prison plus an extra 107 years by a federal court for a string of armed robberies. He was later handed a death sentence by an Oklahoma court for the 1999 killings.

Hanson and Victor Miller abducted Bowles, 77, from a shopping mall and then drove her to an isolated area where they shot and killed her and Thurman, 44, an innocent bystander.

In August, Kunzweiler requested that Hanson be transferred to state custody so he can attend his clemency hearing and, if denied, face execution on Dec. 15. He has requested assistance from the office of state Attorney General John O’Connor after receiving a denial letter from the Bureau of Prisons.

“[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,” the BOP letter states. “The Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) has denied the request for transfer, as it is not in the public’s best interest.”

Kunzweiler criticized the letter as being vague and demanded a reasonable explanation.

“This is not an unusual dynamic where you’re asking one jurisdiction to facilitate to another jurisdiction,” he said. “I’m angry, and I want to find out how high this thing goes up.”

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