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May 26 2010 | UNITED STATES

Oklahoma/USA

Appeals court overturns death penalty or Danny Hooks

 
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NewsOK

Appeals court overturns death penalty

Death sentence overturned for man convicted of killing five women in Oklahoma City.

BY KEN RAYMOND Oklahoman

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the death penalty Tuesday in a notorious Oklahoma City multiple murder case, citing problems with instructions given to jurors.

Two judges agreed the sentence should be overturned. One dissented.

Danny Keith Hooks, 51, was convicted in 1998 of stabbing five women to death on May 16, 1992. Four of the victims were raped. Hooks received five death sentences.

Sandra Thompson, 35; Phyllis Adams, 47; LaShawn Evans, 30; Carolyn Watson, 37; and Fransill Roberts, 34; were found dead at a crack house at 11315 NE 50.

Their slayings became known as the Green Pastures murders, a name taken from the far northeast Oklahoma City community where they died.

The slayings were unsolved for years before DNA recovered from the crime scene was matched to Hooks, who had previously been convicted in Oklahoma for distributing narcotics and in California for rape, kidnapping and assault.

An Oklahoma County jury found him guilty of five counts of first-degree murder. During deliberations after the penalty phase of the trial, jurors were deadlocked at 11-1 in favor of the death penalty. They asked the judge to replace one juror with an alternate because she was basing her decision "on grounds not related to the law.”

That request was denied. Within 10 minutes, the jury foreman sent a note to the judge saying the jury was "unable to reach a unanimous sentence.” The defense moved for a mistrial, but the judge instructed jurors to keep deliberating. Ultimately, Hooks received the death penalty.

In their majority opinion, the appeals court judges said the trial judge’s instruction, along with inaccurate statements by prosecutors during closing arguments, "coerced the jury into returning death sentences.” For that reason, the death sentences were overturned.

"Under state law, the instruction was correct,” said Robert Whittaker, Oklahoma assistant attorney general, "but the majority cobbled together a bunch of factors to conclude that the instruction somehow coerced the jury.”

He said the state is likely to challenge the decision.

"We will review this and make a determination as to what our next steps will be,” he said. "If we do not do anything or if our appeals are denied, then this would go back to the DA’s office for them to decide whether to pursue the death penalty again” or settle for five life sentences.

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