Special counsel to investigate complaints about Oklahoma's parole board

Nolan Clay
In this March 13, 2019, photo, Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board members Adam Luck, left, and Larry Morris watch family members leave after speaking on behalf of their loved one who is being considered for parole.

A special counsel is promising to bring answers to questions surrounding the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board in an effort to restore public confidence in its operations.

Former U.S. Attorney Brian Kuester agreed to serve in the role last week. Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the appointment Monday.

The appointment comes as an investigation is already underway into why drug offender Lawrence Paul Anderson and another inmate were released after the parole board rejected their commutation requests.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has been looking into the releases at the request of Gov. Kevin Stitt.


Anderson, 42, is accused of fatally stabbing three people in Chickasha three weeks after being released from prison. He confessed to cutting out the first victim's heart to eat, according to court affidavits.

Hunter said the special counsel will work with the OSBI to look into allegations about the parole board.

The announcement said the AG's office "continues to receive complaints about the manner in which the Pardon and Parole Board has conducted recent agency actions." It did not go into details about the complaints.

Kuester was the top federal prosecutor for Oklahoma's Eastern District, based in Muskogee, until stepping down Feb. 28. He had served since 2017 after being nominated by former President Donald Trump.

Before that, he had been the district attorney for Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah and Wagoner counties. He is now in private practice.

"My passion for truth and justice remains, and I remain committed to serving my state when the need calls," he said. "With help from the attorney general’s team and the OSBI, we will work together to bring answers to these questions, so Oklahomans can have confidence in the Pardon and Parole Board moving forward.”

The attorney general said he turned to outside counsel to look at the parole board because his assistants represent the state before the body at clemency hearings. He also said the move was made because of the nature of several of the allegations.

Hunter said he had the utmost confidence in Kuester.

"I have no doubt that he will look at the accusations and dispatch a fair, reasonable legal conclusion."

One possible outcome is criminal charges. The special counsel is working directly with Joy Thorp, the senor deputy attorney general who oversees the multicounty grand jury. Grand jurors meet one to three days monthly to receive evidence. 

Anderson was released in January after the governor commuted his sentence for drug dealing and other crimes to nine years.

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The governor signed the commutation after the Pardon and Parole Board recommended it by a 3-1 vote last year.

Records show the Pardon and Parole Board had rejected Anderson's commutation request 3-2 in July 2019. That denial should have blocked any further consideration for three years.

Anderson, however, applied for commutation again in August 2019 and got votes in his favor in October 2019 and January 2020, records show.

Among those complaining about the Pardon and Parole Board is Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

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In a lawsuit filed on March 11, the district attorney asked a judge to block the governor from granting any commutation or parole request "tainted by … improprieties" at the parole board.

Prater accused the board of blatantly violating the law by not giving prosecutors proper notice when inmates request commutations. He specifically accused the acting board chairman, Adam Luck, and another board member, Kelly Doyle, of having a direct material financial interest in the cases coming before them.

The prosecutor asked District Judge Don Andrews to invalidate on ethical grounds any parole or commutation recommendation where they voted. He also asked the judge to block the governor from considering any of those recommendations.

Stitt has criticized the legal action.

"We are not intimidated by political hit jobs disguised as ‘lawsuits’ in a desperate cry for publicity," his office said the same day the legal action was filed.

"Governor Stitt is proud of all four members of the constitutionally established Pardon and Parole Board who take their jobs seriously and consider each case on its individual merits.”

No hearing date has been set yet on the district attorney's request.