Prater says commutations legal, but circumvent legislative intent
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
8/15/12 at 7:20 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater appeared to alter course Tuesday after leveling scathing accusations last week at the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
Prater attended the board's regular monthly meeting that began Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
Last week he said the board illegally was considering paroling and commuting the sentences of inmates required to serve 85 percent of a term.
"I determined that the board has no authority to pardon, commute or otherwise modify an inmate's sentence that was subject to a statutory restriction on early release," Prater wrote in a highly critical nine-page letter to the board.
On Tuesday, Prater said the board could recommend commuting the sentences of those serving 85-percent crimes, but doing so circumvented the legislative intent of the 85-percent law for crimes ranging from murder to rape.
He said the commutations were placed on the parole docket when in fact a separate docket should be held for commutations.
The Oklahoma Constitution gives the board the power to recommend commuting or shortening sentences, something which is separate from parole. The final decision rests with the governor.
The Oklahoma Constitution supersedes laws passed by the Legislature. The 85-percent law was passed by lawmakers.
Prater said recommending commutation of a sentence of someone required to serve 85 percent of the sentence is not the will of the people or the Legislature.
The Pardon and Parole Board on Monday sought an attorney general's opinion on the subject.
Prater's letter was written after he learned an Oklahoma County offender under the 85-percent rule had been approved for early consideration.
He said he appeared at the board meeting with the victim's son to ensure the offender's case would be subject to a moratorium agreed to by the board following the release of his letter.
Prater individually discussed the issue with several members of the board.
He characterized the conversations as appropriate, professional and meaningful.
Prater said his office is conducting a criminal investigation into whether the board violated the Open Meeting Act because individual offenders being evaluated for early consideration were not specifically named on board agendas.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is also investigating the matter.
Prater said the board's actions were not done in the dark, but the public was not aware of it.
Currie Ballard, a board member, said Prater's allegations are water under the bridge.
"I am ready to break bread as a Christian," Ballard said.
Original Print Headline: Prater changes focus of inquiry
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
David Prater: He says recommending commutation for someone required to serve 85 percent of the sentence circumvents legislative intent