The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-1 this morning to deny clemency for death-row inmate Gilbert Postelle, who was convicted of murdering four people in Del City in 2005.
Voting to reject Postelle’s clemency petition were board members Larry Morris, Kelly Doyle, Scott Williams and Richard Smothermon. Board chairman Adam Luck voted in favor of Gilbert’s request to have his sentence commuted to life without the possibility for parole. (Board members voted along the same lines Tuesday to deny the clemency request of Donald Grant.)
Postelle, who said he was 19 at the time of the killings, spent five of his allotted 20 minutes to read a statement to the board. In the statement, he admitted to the crime and said he was high on methamphetamine at the time of the Memorial Day shooting and doesn’t remember the murders.
“I was high for days leading up to this horrible day,” Postelle said. “There’s not a lot that I remember about that day, either. I was told that I had been up for almost a week doing meth.”
His attorney, Robert Nance, described Postelle to the board as a “man of trust.” He pleaded with the board to believe Postelle when he says he doesn’t remember the slayings.
“He accepts that he’s guilty. He had been on meth five days at least. No sleep,” Nance said. “I believe him when he says, ‘I don’t remember,’ because I think he doesn’t remember. I think he was so far on meth that he doesn’t have any recollection of that. He says he’s guilty. For him, that’s a pretty big step forward.”
Before Smothermon’s vote to deny clemency, he said the crime was “horrible” but that there was room for “a lot of mitigation.” He said his decision to deny clemency was based on Postelle’s refusal to take full responsibility for his actions.
“I do not believe he doesn’t know what happened that day,” Smothermon said. “I would rather much hear, ‘Here’s what I did and here’s why I’m sorry.'”
In 2004, Postelle’s father, Brad Postelle, was in a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk and caused brain damage. Prosecutors believed that one of the victims, Donnie Swindle, was involved in the accident and that Postelle was motivated by revenge.
He was accused in his trial of conspiring with his father and his brother, David Postelle, to carry out the shooting that resulted in the deaths of Swindle, Amy Wright, James Alderson and Terry Smith.
“My dad was everything to me, even with all his flaws,” Gilbert Postelle said at Wednesday’s hearing. “I didn’t know how to deal with seeing my dad the way I did — more and more drugs to numb the pain. I was heartbroken at the thought of losing my dad, and I knew who was responsible for it.”
Brad Postelle was declared incompetent to stand trial because of his brain injury from the accident. David Postelle was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Nance argued Wednesday that Gilbert Postelle’s circumstances and upbringing should be taken into account. He said Postelle has learning disabilities and an IQ in the low 70s and that he dropped out of school at age 12. Both of his parents were mentally ill, he faced severe neglect, and he was addicted to methamphetamines from a young age, the attorney said.
“There’s a strong probability that Gil’s early environment adversely affects the psychological wellbeing and diminishes decision-making skills and gives him poor judgment,” Nance said in the hearing. “He suffered parental neglect and abandonment. He was positive for chronic methamphetamine abuse.”
Speaking for the state were Oklahoma assistant attorney generals Ashley Willis, Caroline Hunt and Julie Pittman. They argued Postelle knew what he was doing at the time of the shooting and that the crime was premeditated.
“As we sit here today, Gilbert Postelle is not before you claiming that he is innocent of the crime that he has committed,” Pittman said. “While Postelle accepts the fact that he is guilty, he’s not accepting the punishment he’s been given.”
Postelle is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 27.
Families speak to the board
Speaking to the board from the victims’ families were Janet Wright, Amy Wright’s mother; Mary Swindle, Donnie Swindle’s mother; and Shelly Milner, Donnie Swindle’s sister.
Milner said she has witnessed an Oklahoma execution before and said the inmate did not suffer.
“The courts have found this man guilty, and his appeals were denied,” Milner said. “Gilbert Postelle is guilty of horrendous acts. A small amount of pain for him is nothing compared to what he did to his victims.”
Gilbert Postelle’s daughter, Kaylei Postelle, and his stepmother, Norma Wilder, spoke as well.
“My dad did not get to have a normal or regular childhood,” Kaylei Postelle said. “He was an every-day meth user starting at age 11. He is now a clean and very changed man.”
Death penalty opponents release statement
The Rev. Don Heath from the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty released a statement in response to the board’s decision to deny Postelle clemency.
“I’m surprised and I wonder what it will take for the Pardon and Parole Board to grant mercy to a death row inmate,” the statement said. “Gilbert Postelle was barely over the legal age and barely had the minimum I.Q. in order to be eligible for the death penalty. He had a horrid upbringing and was introduced to meth by his father and became addicted to it. He gave compelling testimony today that he was a changed person, but it didn’t matter.”
Postelle became the fifth death-row inmate to have a clemency hearing before the board in recent weeks, and his was the third request denied by the board. The board also rejected the application of John Marion Grant, whom the state executed Oct. 28, and Donald Grant, who faces a Jan. 27 execution date.
The board recommended clemency for Julius Jones and Bigler Stouffer. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’ sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and his decision on Stouffer is pending. Stouffer is scheduled for a Dec. 9 execution.