ACLU prepared to continue defending Oklahoma woman denied of commutation request

OKLAHOMA CITY - The ACLU of Oklahoma said they are standing by a woman after her request to commute a 30-year prison sentence was denied by the state's Pardon and Parole Board.

Tondalao Hall was sentenced in 2006 after pleading guilty to failing to protect two of children who were abused by her boyfriend, Robert Braxton, Jr. Braxton pleaded guilty and was released on probation after receiving credit for two years he had already spent in jail.

"It’s hard to imagine this being a just sentence," said Allie Shinn with ACLU of Oklahoma. "This woman who was being abused by her boyfriend received 30 years of maximum security prison and, the same day of that sentencing, he walked free to the streets. That's unacceptable."

The board denied Hall's request this week during a jacket review, which is the first step towards possible commutation.

"Unfortunately, the Pardon and Parole Board offered no reason and no commentary on why they were denying her opportunity for commutation," Shinn said. "Frankly, we'd love an explanation."

News 4 made multiple attempts Thursday to reach the board, both via email and phone. Only one out of five members returned our request.

Board member Kris Steele said he does not condone the failure to report but he did vote in favor of Hall.

"In reviewing her file, it appears the abuser had threatened her verbally and made it clear that if she did report anything that he would do even more harm to her and/or the children in the home," Steele said. "It just does not make sense to me that she would receive a harsher punishment than the person who actually was found guilty of the abuse."

Hall's request was not the one that was denied. The board also rejected requests from Stephanie Avery, Tonya Moss and Ashley Garrison.

"There was documented evidence in the file that the woman, the mother was also a victim of what it is called intimate partner abuse," Steele said. "I believe in at least three of the four cases, the actual abuser received a more lenient sentence than did the person who was deemed abused."

Regarding parole and pardon requests, neither the board members or the governor are required to disclosure their reasoning for decisions.

According to Steele, it is "the custom of the board not to disclose that kind of information." It is unusual for the board to even discuss a case.

Steele said, in his opinion, that should change.

"The research that I’ve read indicates that giving a reason or stating those factors actually improve public safety inside the prison system," he said.

The women now must wait three years before reapplying for commutation. Shinn said the ACLU is prepared to defend Hall.

"She’s certainly tired, she is certainly heartbroken that the majority of the members of the Pardon and Parole Board made on their behalf however she’s also a fighter," Shinn said. "Our hope is that we take this as far as we have to, as far as the highest court in the land if need be to not only gain freedom for Tondalao Hall but to ensure a path forward for women like her."