Feds argue they have primary jurisdiction over Oklahoma death row inmate

Oct. 31—Federal officials argue "they have primary control or custody" of an Oklahoma death row inmate scheduled to be executed in December who is serving a life sentence in a Louisiana federal prison.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor and District 14 District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and two directors after a transfer request for death row inmate John Fitzgerald Hanson was denied.

Two requests made by both O' Connor and Kunzweiler were denied because the transfer of Hanson, aka George John Hanson, for his December execution in Oklahoma "was not in the public interest."

"The sovereign with primary jurisdiction may waive 'its strict right to exclusive custody of a defendant' and permit another sovereign to take custody of him, but such decisions lie 'solely within the discretion of the sovereign making the waiver," attorneys for the federal government wrote in court documents filed over the weekend.

Hanson was convicted and sentenced to death in Tulsa County District Court for the deaths of 77-year-old Mary Bowles and 44-year-old Jerald Thurman and is scheduled to be executed Dec. 15.

Records show Hanson is serving a life sentence plus 107 years in a Louisiana federal prison for a series of armed robberies he committed after the murders.

State authorities argue in the lawsuit that the federal government's denial to transfer Hanson in the name of public interest "would mean that Hanson will never face justice for his murder of Bowles" and "if Hanson is transferred, state and federal justice will both be achieved."

Federal attorneys argue the denial of Hanson's transfer is consistent with BOP's general practice of effectuating transfers "within the last 90 days of the inmate's final release from his or her federal sentence."

"The denial also furthers BOP's legitimate interest in ensuring that a federal prisoner serve the entirety of his federal prison sentence," federal attorneys wrote.

The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Texas, Wichita Falls Division with Oklahoma attorneys arguing it is the proper venue for the lawsuit to be filed due to being halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas where the BOP regional offices are located.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor was assigned the case and is known for his previous rulings in favor of Republicans on the Affordable Care Act, gun control, same-sex marriages, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Federal attorneys argue the case should have been filed in the Alexandria Division of the Western District of Louisiana because Hanson is incarcerated in the district and his immediate custodian, the warden named in the lawsuit, performs his duties inside the district. They argue that a writ of habeas corpus can be filed only in the Western District of Louisiana "as that is the relevant 'district of confinement."'

"The requested injunction would be contrary to the public interest because it would upset the inviolable rules of comity," attorneys wrote.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mclaesternews.com