Oklahoma panel denies clemency for man convicted of woman’s 1995 stabbing death
Jun 7, 2023, 10:43 AM
(Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP)
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A state board in Oklahoma voted Wednesday to deny recommending clemency for a man convicted of stabbing a Tulsa woman to death with a butcher knife in 1995, clearing the way for his planned execution next month.
In a 3-2 vote, the Pardon and Parole Board voted against clemency for Jemaine Cannon, 51, who is scheduled to receive a lethal injection on July 20.
Cannon was convicted of killing 20-year-old Sharonda Clark, with whom he had been living after he had escaped from a prison work center in southwest Oklahoma. At the time, Cannon had been serving a 15-year-sentence in connection with a violent assault of another woman.
Cannon and his attorney, Mark Henrickson, claimed that Cannon killed Clark in self-defense after she attacked him to keep him from leaving the Tulsa apartment they shared.
“I am deeply disheartened that the act of defending my life and the acts that she initiated against me ever happened,” Cannon told the board via a video feed from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. “The ending of human life was never desired, planned or premeditated.”
Henrickson also claimed Cannon’s trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective for not presenting evidence that supported his self-defense claim. His trial attorneys presented no witnesses, no exhibits and rested after prosecutors presented their case, Henrickson said.
“The defense in this case conducted what could charitably be described as a drive-by defense,” Henrickson said. “It appears the defense never took the self-defense seriously and only focused on the punishment portion of this litigation.”
Prosecutors from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office rejected Cannon’s self-defense claim and said both the trial court jury and the appellate courts have done the same.
“Jemaine Cannon is not deserving of your mercy,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond. “I want to emphasize the shocking, violent nature of this particular murder.”
Evidence shows Clark was stabbed three times in the throat and that the knife broke after she was stabbed once in the chest, Drummond said. Clark was then dragged into the bathroom where she was left to die on the floor, the attorney general said.
Drummond added that Cannon had a long history of violence against women, including a case for which he was sentenced to prison in which a woman claimed Cannon raped her and viciously beat her with an iron, toaster and claw hammer.
Another woman, Pam Salzman, who testified at Wednesday’s hearing, said Cannon stalked and threatened her and her family, ultimately choking her and slamming her head against the fender of her car during an assault in 1990.
“This man made my life a living hell on earth,” Salzman told the board.
The panel also heard from Clark’s eldest daughter, Yeh-Sehn White, who said Cannon had never in 28 years expressed any remorse for his actions. She urged the board to reject clemency.
“Mercy was never given my mother,” she said. “Even still today he points the blame at my mother for his actions.”
In his final words to the board, Cannon said he was “extremely sorry and remorseful that any of this took place. The end result was not intended.”
Oklahoma, which has executed more inmates per capita than any other state since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, has carried out eight executions since resuming lethal injections in October 2021.
Public support and use of the death penalty in 2022 continued its more than two-decade decline in the U.S., but support remains high in Oklahoma. A state ballot question in 2016 on whether to enshrine the death penalty in the Oklahoma Constitution received more than 65% of the vote.
Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter: @apseanmurphy