An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  - Gandhi

Phillip Hancock, scheduled for execution in November, seeks DNA testing to prove he acted in self defense

Adapted for The City Sentinel by Patrick B. McGuigan and Darla Shelden, based on appeals counsel material – Oct 7, 2023

OKLAHOMA CITYDeath row prisoner Phillip Hancock, has submitted a lawsuit in federal court seeking DNA testing of numerous pieces of physical evidence that could establish he acted in self defense, just as he has always maintained.

Hancock faces execution on November 30 for “defending himself against a vicious, unprovoked attack by an armed man who was high on methamphetamine and was trying to put Hancock in a cage,” according to a summary from Hancock’s legal team.

The submission to the court can be accessed here, and the facts presented below are drawn from the trial evidence and documents linked below.

“This should never have been a murder case at all, let alone a death penalty case,” said Shawn Nolan, one of Mr. Hancock’s attorneys. “Biological evidence in the State’s custody would corroborate Hancock’s account while refuting the State’s theory of the case. But that evidence has never been tested.”

Nolan continued, “How can Oklahoma execute Phil without letting us test this evidence that could prove it happened just the way he has always said?”

Nolan is the Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit in the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern district of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

A defense team analysis provided to The City Sentinel stated: “There is no dispute that Hancock was unarmed when he was lured to Bob Jett’s Oklahoma City house on April 26, 2001, or that Jett, who was armed with a handgun and high on methamphetamines, attacked Hancock with a metal bar and ordered him to get into a cage.  Nor is there any dispute that Hancock shot Bob Jett and James Lynch with Jett’s own gun, having managed to wrest it away from Jett.”

However, at trial, the prosecution claimed that Hancock was lying about Lynch joining in the attack and insisted that Hancock shot Lynch for no reason.

The prosecution also claimed that Jett was no longer a threat to Hancock when he fired the fatal shot. The jury never heard that Jett had lured Hancock to his house to attack him, that Jett used the cage in his house to torture and sexually assault his victims, or that Jett and Lynch were associated with violent outlaw motorcycle gangs.

DNA evidence could prove that Hancock was telling the truth about Jett’s and Lynch’s attack.

A DNA expert, whose report supports Hancock’s filing, explains that both sweat and blood transmit significant quantities of DNA. This makes it likely that Hancock’s DNA was transferred to, and can be identified on, physical evidence in the State’s possession, including Jett’s and Lynch’s clothing, Lynch’s fingernail scrapings, and objects in the room where the struggle occurred. But for years, the prosecution has refused to release the evidence for DNA testing.

“Oklahomans believe in the right of self-defense,” said Nolan. “It’s shocking to think that Phil may be executed for defending himself in life-threatening circumstances.”
Both Jett and Lynch were well known to be involved in violent motorcycle gangs, forced prostitution, and selling methamphetamine. Jett kept a large cage in his living room, which he used to torture people.  

On the night of April 26, 2001, Jett summoned Hancock to his house under the false pretense of needing to pick up his troubled ex-girlfriend Kathy Quick. Just days before, Quick promised to pay Jett to “take care of” Hancock. Quick was angry with Hancock because he did not approve of her shooting up methamphetamine.

Hancock arrived at Jett’s house unarmed.

Jett’s friend, J.V. Lynch, a high-ranking member of the “Hangmen” outlaw gang was also there, and later Jett’s romantic acquaintance, Shawn Tarp, arrived. Jett, who was high on methamphetamine, was working on a motorcycle in the living room and became increasingly agitated.

After receiving a phone call, Jett gathered his belongings, including a gun, which he loaded and tucked into his pants. Supposedly becoming enraged over an open cigarette pack, Jett ordered Hancock to get in the cage and threatened him with a large metal bar.

The cage was large enough to hold a person, and Jett was known to drug and force women into the cage before raping them.

Hancock believed the cage “equaled death” and that “there was no way [Jett] could put [him] in a cage and let [him] out.” Jett swung the metal tool at Hancock and again said, “I told you to get in the [f-ing] cage,” this time in a louder and angrier voice. Tarp, the only witness to the incident, testified for the prosecution that Jett “wasn’t kidding.”

Jett then bludgeoned Hancock with the metal tool, while Lynch, who weighed 300 pounds, sacked Hancock and held him in a chokehold on the living room couch. Hancock managed to wrest Jett’s gun away and shot both Jett and Lynch. Jett ran out of the living room, as Lynch fell to the floor, releasing his hold on Hancock. Hancock went out of the back door, where he again encountered Jett in the dark backyard and fired again.

Hancock then left Jett’s house but not before seeing Tarp and assuring her that he was not going to hurt her. Fearing retaliation from Jett and Lynch’s motorcycle gang associates, Hancock fled the scene and did not go to the hospital or police.

Jeff Wilson, a brief acquaintance of Hancock’s made a written statement that declared, “Phil said he went over to this biker’s house to try to protect his girlfriend Kathy, but it turned out to be a set up and the biker came after him instead and tried to force him into a cage. Phil told me he managed to get the guy’s gun and did what he could to survive.”

The only eyewitness, Shawn Tarp, largely corroborated Hancock’s account in her trial testimony—including that Jett demanded Hancock get into the cage and hit him with a metal bar. However, she claimed that after that initial attack, she hid in a bedroom and did not see what happened. Defense counsel barely cross-examined Tarp, although evidence was available to reinforce Hancock’s version of the events.

In closing arguments, the prosecution told a story that diverged from the actual evidence, claiming that Jett had “retreated” after his initial assault and that Hancock had chased Jett into the backyard. Defense counsel did not object to the prosecution’s mischaracterization of the evidence.  
Defense counsel themselves had crippled Hancock’s self-defense claim by failing to ask any of the witnesses about Jett and Lynch’s reputations for violence or about their use of the cage to torture people. For example, Kathy Quick, who testified at trial, could have said that “Bob Jett was a gun fanatic and he had a reputation for being erratic and dangerous and willing to use a gun even unprovoked,” as she did in a post-conviction declaration.

Quick also could have testified that Jett had “a reputation for hurting and raping women.” She knew Jett “had guns and knives laying all around the place” and that “he also had a cage that was big enough to fit an adult person… The cage was well known for very bad reasons.”

Although trial counsel realized their mistake in not asking about Jett and Lynch’s violent lifestyles before the trial was over, they did nothing to correct it. Defense counsel also failed to investigate and develop the evidence that Hancock had been lured to the house because Quick had promised to pay Jett to harm him, as she has since admitted.

According to a recent evaluation by clinical psychologist and trauma expert Dr. Katherine Porterfield, Hancock’s actions at Jett’s house can only be understood in the context of his lifetime of serious trauma. Throughout Hancock’s childhood, he experienced emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, emotional neglect, his mother being treated violently, and parental mental illness. These factors negatively impacted Hancock’s brain development in childhood and significantly increased the likelihood of mental health difficulties.

The report states that in his adolescent years, Hancock went on to suffer multiple, serious sexual and physical assaults, including an attack by two men when Hancock was thirteen, a sexual assault by a man at a truck stop when he was fourteen, and a gang rape in prison when he was nineteen.

Each event, with no proper care or treatment, added to Hancock’s neurophysiological trauma, creating a vulnerability to live in an almost constant state of threat reactivity to his environment. His actions in response to Jett’s attack stemmed from his immediate fight or flight reaction to the threat of rape, captivity, and death, threats that activated his lifelong bodily and psychic experiences of severe victimization. Hancock’s lifelong adverse experiences also help explain why he did not hurt Tarp: “because she posed no threat to him,” the report noted.

According to a summary from Phillip Hancock’s legal team, as a result of counsel’s ineffectiveness, the jury never heard evidence about the extent of the victims’ gang status and reputations for violence. Nor did the jury know the full extent of Hancock’s trauma history or the profound impacts it had on his mental health and reaction to threats. The jury also was unaware that Quick had ordered the assault against Hancock.

After learning about some of this information, the jury foreperson signed a sworn statement calling her verdict into doubt. The juror said knowing about Quick’s role in the incident “makes me want to now step forward and even attend a clemency or appeal hearing.” She added, “the jury should have heard that part of the story, if it would change things for Phil.”

NOTES: Laura Burstein of the Hancock appeals team provided the material adapted for this story. McGuigan is editor emeritus, and Shelden is senior reporter, for The City Sentinel newspaper (Oklahoma City). 

To read the original story from The City Sentinel, click here.


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