By Fanelisa Leconte, Alphaeus Bey and Sophia Barberini
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Jemaine Cannon, an inmate on Oklahoma death row who was convicted for the murder of the woman who was housing him, was denied clemency Wednesday by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on a 3-2 vote.
According to a press release from the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP), Cannon has been on death row since 1996 and his execution is set for July 20.
Reverend Don Heath, OK-CADP chair, in response to the clemency denial stated, “We have a serious problem with the composition of the Pardon and Parole Board. Three former District Attorneys voted No today to clemency for Jemaine Cannon. The two other members of the board voted Yes. We had the same split in the previous two clemency hearings.”
Rev. Heath added, “Jemaine Cannon was physically abused by his mother and stepfather over his entire childhood. He suffers from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Cannon told a police investigator that he just snapped. The district attorneys are unable to recognize the vulnerability of the men that come before them.
“For the State to kill him is not justice, it is cruelty,” concluded Rev. Heath.
Cannon’s clemency report states he “seeks a commutation based on actual innocence through self-defense and seeks a commutation to a sentence of time served.”
The clemency report, submitted by attorneys Mark Henricksen and Lanita Henricksen, highlighted the circumstances that led to Cannon’s arrest.
Cannon said he met Sharonda Clark at his brother’s funeral in 1994 and, in 1995, Cannon’s mother, Betty, “arranged for her family friend Sharonda to harbor Jemaine” temporarily, as stated in the clemency report.
On February 3, 1995, the day Cannon was scheduled to leave Sharonda’s home, Sharonda got into an argument with a neighbor who was asking for money. The neighbor attempted to return later in the day, “but Sharonda would not talk to her or answer her as Sharonda was still angry with her,” said the clemency report.
Following the neighbor’s departure, as discussed in the clemency report, Cannon prepared to leave. Unaware that Cannon was planning to leave, Sharonda questioned where he was going and did not receive a response. Sharonda ran in front of the door to block Cannon from leaving.
In an effort to get Cannon to stay, said the clemency report, “Sharonda stated that she had been left by her family and her husband and did not want to be left again. Sharonda also stated that she was pregnant,” though Sharona and Jemaine were not in a relationship.
According to the clemency report, Cannon laughed at her declaration which “enraged Sharonda further and she began to punch and kick Jermaine. Jermaine grabbed Sharonda’s wrists in order to prevent her from punching him.”
Cannon, as highlighted in the report, continued his attempts to leave while Sharonda tried to stop him, injuring herself and breaking a window in the process.
Despite Sharonda’s attempts, explained the report, Cannon still aimed to leave, tying his shoe in preparation when “Jermaine turned to his left and saw Sharonda coming at him with a knife. Jermaine turned, raising his left hand at the same time Sharonda was swinging the knife at him, which cut the ring and middle finger on Jermaine’s left hand.”
According to the clemency report, a struggle ensued with both Cannon and Sharonda ending up on the floor and lunging for the knife that had “popped out” of Sharonda’s hand, with Cannon’s hand holding her wrist, when they hit the floor.
Cannon, said the report, gained control of the knife, noting, “Jemaine reached for the knife and blindly swung it. Sharonda was continuing to swing her hands and arms at Jemaine… Jemaine only swung the knife a total of four times.”
Cannon, according to the report, “dragged her to the bathroom in order to seek medical attention” but when he “came into the light in the bathroom, Jemaine saw the situation was worse than what he thought and that he could not do anything as Sharonda was deceased.”
As highlighted by the report, “Jemaine was tried a little less than 13 months after his arrest,” represented by attorneys from the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office.
Cannon, according to the clemency report, only met with his counsel six to seven times prior to trial, none of those meetings exceeding an hour.
Further, explains the report, his attorneys denied Cannon’s “adamant desire to testify on his own behalf in support of a self-defense claim,” and “the record at trial indicates the total failure of defense counsel to engage with any defense expert” to attempt to corroborate Cannon’s self-defense claims, although that was the defense theory.
Cannon and his current attorneys, as explained by the clemency report, note this in their acquisition of an expert witness to support the self-defense theory.
While being interviewed by a “Detective Fultz,” explained the clemency report, Cannon said he had cuts to his hands while defending himself; however there was a failure to check the blood evidence on the knife claimed to be the murder weapon.
In explaining the basis of self-defense, as written in the report, expert witness Edward Hueske, a world-renowned crime scene reconstructionist, said, “This is a good example of how not to document a crime scene and to leave as many unanswered questions behind as possible…it appears that the best possible evidence to confirm self-defense by Mr. Cannon would be the bloodstains.”
“This is not a minor oversight, and it is emblematic of a rush to judgment by the government,” argued Cannon’s attorneys in his clemency report. “If a scientific analysis confirmed Jemaine’s blood on the knife, it would have gone a long way to support the self-defense claim. Law enforcement was neglectful in not checking this knife for blood and the defense was negligent in not seeking analysis.”
“Mr. Hueske’s report is a damning analysis of the crime scene management by law enforcement… If the trial team was relying on a self-defense theory, and it was hell-bent and determined to prohibit Jermaine from testifying, then it was profound incompetence not to engage an expert to challenge the conclusions of the government,” argued the report.
Moreover, declared the clemency report, “during the first stage [of the trial] counsel called no witnesses, including Jermaine; introduced no exhibits; made sparse use of State’s exhibits; engaged only in limited cross-examination of State’s witnesses; and had no cross for almost one-third of those witnesses… His current counsel read the defense aloud and estimates that the entire first stage defense took less than one hour.”
“The defense lawyers provided what can charitably be described as a drive-by defense,” said the clemency report, and they relied on Dr. Herman Jones,’ a neuropsychologist, testimony.
In his testimony, as stated in the report, Dr. Jones said, “I believe that Jemaine represents an unacceptably high risk to the general public for harming those around him, especially and almost specifically, women with whom he believes he had a strong romantic attachment.”
Dr. Jones, however, “came to this conclusion without ever specifically asking for questioning Jemaine about women or his relationships with women,” read the report.
Cannon’s defense seemingly began to recognize its error and, according to the report, “apparently had some reservations about Dr. Jones’ command of the facts of the case,” resulting in them calling Georgia Wykoff, licensed social worker and mitigation specialist to speak with him.
Cannon’s attorneys initially engaged Georgia Wykoff services as a mitigation specialist, but she moved out of the country prior to being able to complete her job, said the report.
Wykoff, who was “re-engaged” by Cannon’s current attorneys for his clemency hearing, reached out to Dr. Jones multiple times, but her calls were never returned.
During the clemency procedures, explained the report, Wykoff “met with Jemaine many times, reviewed his records, and interviewed his family,” determining a diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Not only were there issues with counsel during his trial, there were also issues with counsel during Cannon’s direct appeal process, claimed the report.
In both his trial and direct appeal, explained the report, Cannon was represented by the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office, and the close relationships between the attorneys reveals that “Jermaine did not receive the benefit of conflict free counsel in the prosecution of his appeal of his conviction.”
Moreover, “it further means that the first stage of defense consisting of no witnesses, no exhibits, no experts, and only twenty-seven (27) pages of cross-examination did not earn even a glancing comment from appellate counsel,” stated the clemency report.
Following the loss of his direct appeal, Cannon, as stated by the report, “decided to proceed as his own lawyer. He did not receive the support and resources which indigent clients ordinarily receive in developing their post-conviction cases.”
Cannon, according to the report, was not granted funding that is generally granted to those in capital litigation, was not given funding for neuropsychological evaluation, and was denied when he requested “an investigator, a mental health evaluator, a medical examiner expert, a blood spatter expert, a self-defense expert and a Strickland ineffectiveness of counsel expert.”
Cannon’s clemency report explains, “During these two and a half decades [that Cannon has spent incarcerated], there has been no suggestion of violence, substance use or any action putting others at risk of anything.”
Moreover, the report states, Cannon “has spent most of his life in custody, and for many years he has had physical disabilities which would have caused people with less will to abandon the fight.”
The report concludes in stating that this case is an “outlier in [the parole] board’s historic reluctance to grant clemency” for two reasons.
Firstly, said the report, “The trial team failed to present the affirmative defense, either by permitting Jemaine to exercise his absolute right to testify or by bolstering his statement to law enforcement with a forensic deconstruction of the government’s case.”
Secondly, the report finished, “For twenty-seven years he has displayed nearly perfect conduct as a prisoner. Killing him now serves only revenge, not justice.”