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Tondalo Hall
The potential commutation of Tondalo Hall, left, now rests in the hands of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, right, after the state's Pardon and Parole Board advanced her in the process Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (NonDoc)

Tondalo Hall, an Oklahoma City woman serving 30 years in prison for permitting child abuse, had her application for commutation advanced to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk today by a 5-0 vote of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

Hall spoke before the board via video call, and her attorneys were present at the meeting. Each expressed why they believe her sentence should be commuted to time served. Hall, a domestic abuse survivor, has served 15 years of her sentence for permitting child abuse committed by her boyfriend and father of two of her three children, Robert Braxton Jr.

In a rocky trial in 2006, Braxton was sentenced to only 10 years in prison, of which eight years were suspended. He was released after two years time-served. In 2004, Hall’s infant daughter and toddler son had been diagnosed with broken legs and broken ribs, according to court documents.

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Two of Hall’s children were present at Tuesday’s meeting.

The circumstances by which Braxton and Hall each pleaded guilty were complicated. Prosecutor Angela Marsee originally struck a deal with Hall to testify against Braxton. Hall pleaded guilty with an unspecified sentence, known as a blind plea, prior to being called as a witness against Braxton.

But when she got on the stand to testify, she lied about the involvement of Braxton in the abuse of their two children.

Hall said in her 2014 commutation application that Braxton’s abuse toward her did not stop during the trial. Instead, he continued to intimidate her through the proceedings. She initially said she lied to investigators so that her children would not be taken from her, according to court documents.

Because of her testimony against Braxton, prosecutors faced the possibility that Braxton might go free and even gain custody of the abused children if a plea deal was not made.

“I have a real problem putting her in the same shoes as him,” Marsee, the prosecutor who originally handled Hall’s case, said in court documents. “He definitely should have received a more significant sentence, but because of her minimizing and continuing to protect herself and protect him, that had a real impact on what we were able to do with him in the jury trial. So she should not benefit from that.”

In July, the board voted 5-0 to move Hall’s application to “stage two” of the process. Previously, Hall had her application denied at the first stage twice, once in 2015 and again in 2018.

“Once the governor’s office receives the packet from the Pardon and Parole Board, the legal team will begin reviewing recommendations with the governor,” said Baylee Lakey, communications director for Stitt.

Shoulders to lean on

During Tuesday’s hearing when the camera turned so Hall could view her delegates present, she began to cry as her parents, siblings and two children, now 17 and 20 years old, waved at her from the front of the room

Christie Luther, an advocate for Hall, told the board that Hall is “resilient”.

“I see her on a daily basis and have for over the last six years,” Luther said. “She’s a woman of integrity, and she’s become one of my closest friends.”

Luther told the board that when Hall learned of her denial for commutation last year it crushed her.

“I saw her stand back up and get right back into the ring,” Luther said. “And keep being the amazing woman that she is.

Megan Lambert, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said at a press conference following Tuesday’s vote that the process of getting Hall’s sentence commuted was “grueling and far too long.”

“I am thrilled to finally be at this point receiving a favorable vote on her commutation application,” Lambert said. “We believe the word of many advocates on behalf of those incarcerated on failure to protect charges made a big difference, as did the evolution of the board.”

Oklahoma County District Court Attorney David Prater sent a letter to the board in March (embedded below) requesting that the board grant the request of Hall’s commutation. During Tuesday’s hearing, board chairman Allen McCall said the letter showed class and integrity by Prater.

“I’ve never gotten a letter like that in my time on this board,” McCall said during the hearing.

Lambert said that even though she sees the facts differently from Prater, his letter speaks to the gravity of injustice in the case and that they “can still agree on the just result now,” she said.

Lambert said this was a good example of the power district attorneys hold within the criminal justice system.

“With a single letter, David Prater was able to do what advocates have been asking the system to do years,” Lambert said.

Stitt has 90 days to approve Hall’s commutation recommendation, Lambert said. Once Hall is release, Lambert said she has a job ready for her in the cosmetology industry.

“It’s time for her to come home,” Luther said.

A support group for incarcerated women called Project Blackbird has advocated for Hall’s release and has raised more than $10,000 in 14 days, according to organizer Candace Liger.

Prater sent NonDoc a statement after Hall’s commutation recommendation.

“I wish Ms. Hall the best. She now has the opportunity to have a relationship with her children outside of prison. I’m hopeful that Ms. Hall will use this opportunity to educate women in abusive relationships to seek help before their children are abused by their violent partner,” Prater said in the statement. “As a parent, our first priority is to protect our children. The most effective way to do that is to not expose our children to violence in the first place. If anyone finds themselves in a violent relationship, I urge them to seek help immediately. In Oklahoma Country, there are wonderful people at Palomar, our family justice center, who are ready to assist anyone who needs services.”

Read David Prater’s full letter to the Pardon and Parole Board

Read Rep. Emily Virgin’s (D-Norman) full letter to the Pardon and Parole Board

(Update: This story was updated at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, to include comments from supporters of Tondalo Hall. It was updated again at 4 p.m. to include a statement from Stitt’s office. It was updated again at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, to included statements from Prater and Virgin.)