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Federal inmate set for state execution denied transfer to Oklahoma custody

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The Oklahoma attorney general is asking the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to reconsider a decision his office says could amount to unprecedented federal interference in the state’s execution process.

Federal officials have denied the state’s request to transfer federal inmate George John Hanson, known as John Fitzgerald Hanson in his Oklahoma death-sentence case.

A Tulsa County jury found Hanson guilty of murdering retired Tulsa banker Mary Bowles and Owasso trucking company owner Jerald Thurman in 1999 and sentenced him to death.

Hanson, 58, is currently housed in the U.S. Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, serving a life sentence plus 107 years for a series of armed robberies he committed after the murders but was convicted of and sentenced for while the state case was ongoing.

He has since exhausted his appeal opportunities in Oklahoma and is slated for execution by lethal injection on Dec. 15, pending a clemency hearing Nov. 9 where Gov. Kevin Stitt could grant him mercy.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler requested the AG’s assistance after receiving a formal notice in late September of the denial that cited a reason set forward in the U.S. Code. The DA’s Office provided the Tulsa World a copy of the 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 letter reads in part. “The Designation and Sentence Computation Center … has denied the request for transfer, as it is not in the public’s best interest.”

Kunzweiler balked at the vague term and said in a news release that the decision reeked of politics. In the release last week, the DA said he was “outraged” and has demanded a greater explanation.

“The crimes for which Hanson is serving time in federal custody were committed after his involvement in the murders of Mary Bowles and Jerald Thurman,” he wrote. “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 listed several state and federal agencies from which he has sought assistance in the matter, and a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said O’Connor has reached out to a Bureau of Prisons regional director “to see if he will reconsider his refusal to transfer Hanson to Oklahoma.”

The bureau’s Office of Public Affairs declined to comment for this story, stating that “based on privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not comment on inmate’s conditions of confinement, to include transfers or reasons for transfers.”

The Tulsa World has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the bureau seeking an internal document that could clarify the conditions under which the decision was made.

“Mary Bowles and Jerald Thurman deserve justice, as do their surviving family members,” Kunzweiler said. “It has been 23 years since their murders, and the judicial system has afforded Hanson all of the due process he is entitled to.”

Hanson and his co-defendant Victor Miller kidnapped Bowles, 77, from the Tulsa Promenade mall parking lot in late August 1999 and drove her to a remote part of north Tulsa County, while Thurman, 44, happened to be picking up a load of dirt in the area.

Prosecutors maintained that Hanson killed Bowles after Miller killed Thurman, and each was convicted of both murders in separate jury trials in 2001 and 2002 in Tulsa County District Court.

The juries sentenced Hanson to death for Bowles’ murder and life without parole for Thurman’s murder and Miller to death for Thurman’s murder and life without parole for Bowles’ murder.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Hanson’s death sentence in 2003, but he received the same fate at a resentencing trial in 2006, which that court has upheld since 2009.

Miller’s convictions were overturned on appeal in 2004, but he was convicted by another jury in 2008 and sentenced to death for both murders. The Court of Criminal Appeals modified his sentence for Bowles’ murder to life without parole in 2013 and ordered him for resentencing in Thurman’s murder.

The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office dropped its pursuit of the death penalty in Miller’s case in 2015, citing the victim’s family’s expressed need for finality.

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Staff Writer

I write because I care about people and peace, and I believe the most informed people make the best decisions. I joined the Tulsa World in 2019 to cover breaking news, and I currently cover crime and courts. Phone: 918-581-8455

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