FILE - In this photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Phillip Hancock is pictured in a photo dated June 29, 2011. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board narrowly voted Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, to recommend sparing the life of Hancock, who was set to be executed later this month for what he claims were the self-defense killings of two men in Oklahoma City in 2001.  (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File)
CNN  — 

Oklahoma on Thursday executed 59-year-old death row inmate Phillip Hancock, who was sentenced to death for the 2001 double murder of Robert Jett and James Lynch, according to a statement from the Department of Corrections.

Hancock – who had claimed the killings were done in self-defense – was pronounced dead at 11:29 a.m., the statement from corrections director Steven Harpe said.

Hancock’s execution went ahead Thursday morning after Gov. Kevin Stitt declined to halt it despite a recommendation by the state’s parole board that he receive clemency, Hancock’s attorneys said in a statement.

Stitt was not bound by the recommendation of the board, which voted 3-2 in favor of clemency at a hearing earlier this month.

“These are always painfully difficult decisions to make and I don’t take this responsibility lightly,” Stitt said in a statement Thursday. “The justice that twelve jurors decided on twenty years ago was final today. I reviewed the many facts and materials presented in this case and considered that this was not his first conviction. I trust this brings some closure to all the families involved.”

On Thursday, following the execution, Jett’s brother said the families felt they had finally received justice after more than two decades.

“Our families have been waiting 22 years. Two families,” Ryan Jett said, according to CNN affiliate KOCO. “We’ve waited a long time for justice to be served, and it was served.”

Hancock’s attorneys and his advocates – including two GOP state legislators – had argued he killed Robert Jett and James Lynch in a clear-cut case of self-defense, alleging the two victims were known outlaws who attacked an unarmed Hancock and tried to force him into a cage at Jett’s home in Oklahoma City. In a physical altercation, Hancock managed to get control of Jett’s gun and then fatally shot the two men, according to Hancock’s clemency petition.

“We are profoundly sad that Oklahoma executed Phil for protecting himself from a violent attack,” Shawn Nolan, an attorney for Hancock, said in a statement Thursday. “This was a clear case of self-defense and the Governor and the state ignored a wealth of evidence showing that Phil was fighting for his life.”

Hancock’s execution is Oklahoma’s fourth in 2023, per a tally by the Death Penalty Information Center. The state originally intended to execute as many as nine death row inmates this year as part of a broader plan to execute 25 inmates over the course of about two years, beginning in August 2022.

That plan has not come to fruition as envisioned, however: In January, incoming GOP Attorney General Gentner Drummond asked the courts to slow the pace of executions, calling the initial schedule “unsustainable in the long run, as it is unduly burdening the DOC and its personnel,” given the training they need for it.

Additionally, several inmates had their execution dates rescheduled as a result of ongoing court proceedings, Richard Glossip chief among them. Glossip claims he’s innocent of the killing for which he’s supposed to be executed, and his supporters include a bipartisan group of dozens of Oklahoma state legislators, including GOP Reps. Kevin McDugle and Justin Humphrey.

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2014, file photo, the entrance to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary is seen in McAlester, Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin's office released the recommendations from the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. The task force is recommending a reduction in criminal penalties for nonviolent drug offenders, a parole option for elderly inmates and allowing some prisoners a chance to expunge their records after going a period of time without new convictions. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

‘We call that self-defense,’ state legislator says

McDugle and Humphrey had also backed Hancock’s self-defense claim. And while they say they support the death penalty, they have raised questions about whether it is being administered fairly. Indeed, for the first time in at least two decades, more Americans believe the death penalty is applied unfairly than it is fairly – 50% to 47%, respectively – polling published this month by Gallup showed.

“I am a person who believes in your right to defend yourself,” Humphrey said at a news conference at the state Capitol in October to bring attention to Hancock’s case. He described it as one in which an unarmed person was attacked and fighting for his life when the killings occurred.

“From southeastern Oklahoma, we call that self-defense,” Humphrey said, adding it should not have resulted in Hancock being charged with murder. “We let you loose, we don’t even charge you … We as Oklahomans have a right to defend ourselves.”

Hancock’s conviction and death sentence were upheld on appeal, and representatives for the state attorney general’s office argued against clemency at the parole hearing, KOCO reported. The evidence, they said, disproved Hancock’s self-defense claim.

“His unwillingness to recognize that fact and move towards forgiveness for the two lives he stole away should submit his fate,” Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lockett said.

Hancock testified that he had “no choice” but to defend himself, according to footage of the hearing provided by his attorneys.

“I was absolutely terrified for my life. I’ve never felt so alone,” Hancock told the board, calling that moment a “life-or-death situation I did not provoke in any way, whatsoever.”

“I absolutely regret with all of my heart that those men died as a result of the nightmare situation that they themselves created,” he said. “I did what I had to do to save my life.”

Members of both victims’ families testified to urge the parole board not to recommend clemency. Jett’s late parents were never the same after his killing, Ryan Jett told the board, adding, “I don’t claim that my brother was an angel by any means, but he did not deserve to be hunted down in the backyard and killed like a dog.”

Despite the board’s recommendation, Lynch’s brother was confident the execution would proceed as scheduled.

“Murder is murder, whether it’s being called manslaughter, accidental death, whatever,” Robert Lynch said at the time, according to KOCO. “He didn’t accidentally kill my brother or Bob.”