Former Oklahoma judge defends early prison release request

Former Oklahoma County Judge Leamon Freeman confirmed Thursday that he asked a Pardon and Parole Board member to recommend the early release of inmate Maelene Chambers but contends everything was done properly and above board.
by Randy Ellis Modified: August 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm •  Published: August 10, 2012

Former Oklahoma County District Judge Leamon Freeman confirmed Thursday that he asked a Pardon and Parole Board member to recommend the early release of inmate Maelene Chambers, but contends everything was done properly and above board.

“I was paid nothing for this,” Freeman, 83, said of legal work he has done in behalf of Chambers, 50, of Edmond. “I don't think there was any secret stuff.”

Freeman's actions touched off a chain of events that prompted Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to write a scathing letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Wednesday accusing it of operating a secret early release docket in violation of Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act.

Prater also accused the board of expediting the early release of some inmates who were ineligible because they had not fulfilled mandatory sentencing guidelines. His letter listed 50 inmates whom Prater said were given improper preferential treatment in the early release process. Some have been released while others remain incarcerated.

In a new development Thursday, Prater said his inquiry has revealed that the Pardon and Parole Board was not forwarding to Gov. Mary Fallin all the information it had in cases where it was recommending that she grant inmates early release.

“Objection letters” from district attorneys were among the information withheld, Prater said.

Chambers, a former University of Oklahoma cheerleader, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in 2008 in the October 2006 drunk-driving death of Joseph Sharp of Edmond. Chambers reportedly had been driving her 2006 Corvette at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour when she plowed into the back of Sharp's Ford Ranger pickup, killing Joseph Sharp and seriously injuring his wife, Betty.

Chambers was sentenced to 10 years in prison plus 15 years probation. She is not eligible for parole until 2016 under an Oklahoma law that requires individuals convicted of certain serious crimes to serve 85 percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole.

Freeman said Thursday that he was asking for Chambers' sentence to be commuted — not for her to be paroled — and he believes there is a legal distinction.

“The (85 percent) statute doesn't say anything about commutation of a sentence,” Freeman said, adding that it is his legal opinion that the governor, acting upon the recommendation of the parole board, can commute sentences of individuals ineligible for parole consideration.

Prater strongly disagrees.

“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 said in his letter to the parole board. “It would be an act of unimaginable arrogance and dishonesty for the board to believe that they could do indirectly, what they are prohibited from doing directly.”

At the request of the governor's office, the parole board placed a moratorium Thursday on early release consideration of inmates not yet eligible for parole. An attorney general's opinion is being requested.

Chambers is still incarcerated and her name has been removed from the board's August early release consideration docket, Prater said.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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