Judge Kenneth Watson, who freed a woman jailed for failing to protect her children from an abusive boyfriend, won't help decide the fate of another woman in prison on a similar case after all.
Watson had been appointed to Oklahoma's pardon and parole board, which is due to consider the high-profile case of Tondalo Hall. Hall is in prison on a 30-year sentence for failing to protect her children from her boyfriend, despite evidence that she was a victim of violent abuse as well. The boyfriend, who admitted to breaking the ribs and leg of their 3-month-old daughter, received a 2-year sentence and has walked free for the past eight years.
With 20 years left on her sentence, Hall has applied for clemency, and Oklahoma's parole board will decide the merits of her case. Watson was set to be the fifth member of the board. When he was judge, he set free Victoria Phanthtaranth from a 35-year sentence for failing to protect her daughter from being murdered by her boyfriend. He did so after Phanthtaranth delivered lengthy testimony at her boyfriend's trial detailing ongoing physical abuse that she and her daughter suffered. At the time of his appointment in March, Watson told BuzzFeed News he hoped to "make a difference" on the board.
But now Watson has backed out of his parole board appointment, according to the parole board's outgoing executive director, Jari Askins. To take up a parole board position, he would have had to stop representing clients as a lawyer. "He just didn't want to give up his practice of criminal law," Askins told BuzzFeed News. A message left with Watson's law office was not immediately returned.
So the parole board continues to search for a fifth member to go along with Patricia High, Robert Macy, Thomas Gillert, and board chairwoman Vanessa Price. It's unclear when the board will take up Hall's case, which was the subject of a small protest outside parole board meetings on Monday.
Alex Campbell is the deputy UK investigations editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. His secure PGP fingerprint is C99D 2577 74B1 8DF0 6E90 3CD7 DFF4 C0F2 2492
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