taking the words of Jesus seriously

This opinion was originally published on August 28, 2022 by The Oklahoman

I was in the execution chamber with James Coddington Thursday for the last 45 minutes of his life.

When I entered, he was already strapped to a gurney, lying on his back with his arms extended. It looked like he was on a cross, except lying flat on his back. He had an IV going.

His concern for the last week has been that he just wanted Gov. Kevin Stitt to announce a decision on clemency. His attitude has been, “This is hanging over me, and I can’t think about anything else. I would just like to know one way or the other.”

The Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency on Aug. 3, but Gov. Stitt had to approve their recommendation to commute the death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Stitt didn’t make his decision until less than 24 hours before the execution, releasing a statement in which he didn’t give a reason for denying clemency.

For the first 10 or 15 minutes, James was talking about that. He didn’t understand why Stitt waited so long. He was disturbed that he didn’t give a reason. James said that he was disappointed but that he accepted his fate. He said he was being punished for killing his friend, Albert Hale, and he accepted that. He thought he had a lot more to give, he could contribute to the community in prison, but if that was the governor’s will, there was nothing he could do about it.

Death penalty opponents gather near the governor's mansion Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, to protest the execution of James Coddington.

(Image: Death penalty opponents gather near the governor’s mansion Thursday, August 25, 2022, to protest the execution of James Coddington | DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN)

Then I held a brief religious service for him the last 10 minutes before the execution was to begin. I told James he was a beloved child of God, that every man on death row is a beloved child of God, that Gov. Stitt is a beloved child of God, and that God forgives his sins. I said the words of committal that ministers say at a graveside: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” I prayed for him and talked to him about the people that love him. When the curtain went up at 10 a.m. his last words to the witnesses in the chamber were expressing his love for his fiancé and her three children, for his brother and his niece, for his attorney and her investigator, for me, for the other people who supported him.

About The Author


Mary Grace Puszka is a communications expert with seven years of experience professionally managing digital and traditional communications for faith-inspired nonprofits. Her work centers unique stories of impact that strive to shift cultures and bend our collective path closer towards an equitable, just, and peaceful world. Mary Grace has managed communications and media strategies for international, national, and local faith-based organizations and she's worked with hundreds of faith leaders across the globe. She completed fellowships with the Ministerio de Educación Nacional de Colombia and the Andi Leadership Institute for Young Women in Peacebuilding. She has designed and taught peace-centric curricula to hundreds of adolescent students in both Colombia and South Korea. Mary Grace is an outdoor and travel enthusiast and enjoys technical hikes, swimming, and kayaking, often with her husband, Rob. Mary Grace holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Relations with a minor in Religious Studies from Stonehill College. She lives in Queens, New York.

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