Investigation of Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board halts inmate's release

by Randy Ellis Published: August 28, 2012

Giddy anticipation turned to instant heartache for the fiancee of Oklahoma prison inmate Richard Sipe III this past weekend.

Told her fiance was to be released from prison, Juli Cummings flew all the way from Seattle to Oklahoma City late last week — only to be told upon arrival that Sipe's release had been put on hold because of an investigation into possible Open Meeting Act violations by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

“This has devastated us,” said Cummings, 52, fighting back tears. “It just shouldn't have turned out this way.”

The airplane tickets, alone, cost $1,200, she said.

Add in the cost of meals, rental car, hotel and time off work, and the total cost of the wasted trip is more like $2,000, she said.

And she said the heartache is crushing.

Sipe, 53, is one of dozens of inmates whose futures have been placed in limbo while Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater investigates whether the state Pardon and Parole Board violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.

Prater is questioning whether the board acted improperly by placing the inmates on a docket for early release consideration without properly notifying the public through its agenda.

In a related action, the state attorney general has been asked to issue an opinion on whether it is legal for the governor to commute sentences of individuals who have been convicted of certain serious crimes before they have served the 85 percent of their sentences.

The Pardon and Parole Board has placed a hold on the release of inmates caught up in the controversy until questions can be resolved.

Name on list twice

Prater released a list of 50 names of inmates brought up for early release consideration by board members in possible violation of Oklahoma law. Sipe's name was the only one to appear on the list twice.

Sipe's name first appeared on the list in 2010 when the board voted to commute his 60-year sentence for aggravated manufacture of methamphetamine, one of the so-called 85 percent crimes. He had served nearly nine years in prison at the time.

Following the commutation, Sipe immediately began serving a 10-year prison sentence for possession of a firearm in commission of a felony and failure to affix an Oklahoma tax stamp to a controlled drug. He had received those sentences at the same time as the sentence for manufacturing meth and the 10 years was required to be served following completion of the first sentence.

In 2011, the Pardon and Parole Board initiated action to parole Sipe from his second sentence and Gov. Mary Fallin signed that parole on Aug. 15, setting the stage for his anticipated release, Cummings said.

Mistakes made

Cummings said Sipe's problems are the result of both mistakes he made and bad luck.

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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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