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Former parole board chairman speaks publicly for first time about service, resignation

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, from left, Scott Williams, Kelly Doyle, Adam Luck, Larry Morris and Richard Smotherman, listen as the family of Paul Howell testifies at a commutation hearing for Julius Jones, in Oklahoma City on Sept. 13, 2021. Luck, the chairman of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board who has consistently voted to spare the lives of death row inmates is resigning at the request of the governor.
Sue Ogrocki
/
AP
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, from left, Scott Williams, Kelly Doyle, Adam Luck, Larry Morris and Richard Smotherman, listen as the family of Paul Howell testifies at a commutation hearing for Julius Jones, in Oklahoma City on Sept. 13, 2021. Luck, former chairman of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board who consistently voted to spare the lives of death row inmates resigned at the request of the governor in 2022.

Adam Luck said he’s spent the last four years “desperately trying” to not speak in public about his time on Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board.

Luck, who was on the parole board from 2019 to 2022, said he changed his mind because he’s been speaking in small groups since he stepped down, and the conversations he’s had convinced him there’s value in explaining his experience.

During a speech at a Saturday dinner hosted by the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Luck, who’s known for supporting decarceration of prisons and opposing the death penalty, said his time on the parole board was fraught from the very beginning.

Luck said during his first parole board meeting, he was contacted on his personal cell phone by a district attorney he didn’t name.

“After I got over the shock of being contacted on my personal cell phone by a district attorney, I saw very quickly this person did not like what I was doing,” said Luck.

A year later, Luck said he was the target of district attorneys around the state who wanted him off the parole board. The District Attorneys Council and the District Attorneys Association began "a concerted effort" to remove him, including submitting records requests to the parole board for texts and emails including words like "God" and "Jesus."

“The scope of their request is so broad and so blatantly includes topics unrelated to my service on this board that it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than this: they are using their power and the resources of their office to threaten and intimidate me,” said Luck, reading from the journal he kept at the time.

According to media reports, district attorneys around the state were concerned about Luck’s and another parole board member’s involvement in two nonprofits, City Care and Center for Employment Opportunities, that could potentially profit from the release of prisoners. Both help formerly incarcerated people integrate back into society.

After Luck was elected parole board chair in 2021, he said a series of lawsuits seeking his removal from the board began. Right before a hearing at the state Supreme Court, Luck said his long-time attorney quit without much of an explanation.

“I knew that there had to be more to the story. This wasn’t what it seemed,” said Luck.

Eventually Luck became involved in a parole board grand jury inquiry led by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Prater’s request for a grand jury was approved by Judge Ray Elliott the same day it was submitted, Luck said, despite attorney wife Sandra Elliott’s involvement in the high-profile Julius Jones case set to go before the parole board for clemency consideration.

In 2022, Luck met with Gov. Kevin Stitt, who asked him why he always voted for clemency for death row prisoners. Luck said the two exchanged views, and later Stitt asked Luck to step down from the parole board. Luck said he didn’t initially include anything about the death penalty in hisresignation letter, but Stitt’s office insisted.

“At the risk of being inflammatory, I’ll skip over a few details, and say I was asked to put in a few details about why I was resigning,” said Luck.

Reflecting on his service at the end of his speech, Luck said he has come to think that “the system is not broken,” that it’s operating as intended by the powerful people who run it.

“These things, to me, have informed my experience...how much the people who have the power in Oklahoma work to maintain it and keep it, and how much the system metabolizes people who aren’t like them, don’t think like them, and want to see things differently,” said Luck.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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Criminal Justice Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
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