- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A divided federal appeals court panel upheld a death sentence Tuesday for an Oklahoma man convicted in the shooting deaths of two men more than 12 years ago.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the sentence of Phillip Hancock, 51, of Guthrie, who was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the April 27, 2001, shooting deaths of Robert L. Jett Jr., 37, and James V. Lynch, 58, both of Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals previously upheld Hancock’s convictions and death sentence.

An Oklahoma County jury convicted Hancock on the murder counts and sentenced him to death during a 2004 trial in which Hancock acknowledged that he had killed both men but claimed he was acting in self-defense, according to the appellate court’s majority opinion. Defense attorneys had argued Hancock was in a fight with the victims when they were shot.

Among other things, the appeals court rejected assertions that Hancock’s jury had been misled by what Hancock’s attorneys claimed were unwarranted legal instructions on self-defense.

Hancock also claimed that the introduction of evidence to his jury concerning an unrelated manslaughter conviction in 1982 and his claims of self-defense in that case deprived him of his constitutional due process rights.

But, in a 2-1 decision, the federal appeals court panel upheld the state appeals court ruling that affirmed Hancock’s convictions and death sentence.

“In these circumstances, we conclude that Mr. Hancock has failed to prove that the…decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts,” the decision states.

In a 20-page dissenting opinion, Judge Carlos F. Lucero said he disagreed with the majority opinion and would reverse Hancock’s conviction and sentence based on what he said was the improper introduction of Hancock’s 1982 manslaughter conviction and self-defense claim to his jury.

“…The prosecution used both Hancock’s prior self-defense plea and his 1982 manslaughter conviction to tell the jury that Hancock was not to be believed,” Lucero said. “Thus, the prejudice stemming from the admission of Hancock’s prior crime and plea went to the heart of the trial.”

Hancock’s primary defense attorney, Madeline Cohen of the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Denver, declined comment on the appellate court’s ruling.

Attorney Lanita Henricksen of Oklahoma City, who also represents Hancock, said it is likely his defense team will ask the appeals court for a rehearing.

No execution date has been set for Hancock.

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