By Edward Snook
Lexington, OK – Over the past two years the US Observer has run several articles about an innocent Oklahoma inmate named Reno Francis. Mr. Francis was the victim of an unscrupulous district attorney, John Turner, who coerced him into signing a false confession to the murder of Cathy Scott in August of 1970. Seventeen days after Reno was arrested for “being high on an unknown substance” he arrived at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, a 23-year old convicted murderer carrying the unbearable weight of a life sentence on his shoulders.
Although Reno has been turned down for parole over a dozen times during his 38-plus years of incarceration he received a unanimous vote of support from the parole board this past July, 2008. The board questioned Reno at length encouraging him to be truthful about what happened during the commission of the 1970 crime. Reno explained that he could not share that information as he had not been at the scene of the crime and did not know what actually occurred.
Following this discussion the 5-member parole board voted unanimously to parole Reno from his life sentence to a consecutive 5 year sentence. Besides the life sentence for murder, Reno also has a 5 year sentence for “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” and a 10 year sentence for “burning or destruction of a public building,” received when he was at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester while attempting to create a diversion by kicking a toilet off the wall to stop the beating of another inmate by prison guards. After the parole board’s approval Reno’s file was sent to the office of Governor Brad Henry on August 15 for final approval.
On January 7, 2009 Reno was called into the office of the parole investigator at the prison at Lexington, Oklahoma where he is incarcerated. The investigator explained to Reno that Governor Henry is willing to sign Reno’s parole, but wishes to have his life sentence commuted to a number of years. This way when the set time has been served the sentence will be fully executed and will be null and void. A regular parole, on the other hand, can be revoked under certain conditions. In order for this commutation to happen the parole board must recommend the number of years to which the sentence should be commuted. Reno’s hearing before the parole board for this commutation decision has been set for the second week in February. After the board makes their recommendation, Reno’s file will once again make the trip to the governor’s desk for his approval.
Verna Wood and Reno Francis
This reporter knows of two similar cases in which the parole board recommended a time frame for commutation of a life sentence and the governor has approved the commutation. Those inmates have served enough time already to satisfy the requirements of the commuted sentence and are now beginning to serve their respective consecutive sentences.
The US~Observer thanks the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Governor Brad Henry for their willingness to work with these inmates and for making a positive difference in their lives. We strongly urge and encourage the parole board to commute Reno’s sentence to a small number of years (preferably 1 year) so that the time he has already served will not only justify this sentence but the 5 and 10 year sentences as well, making Reno’s imminent release a possibility. Surely 38 years is more than enough time for an innocent man to spend behind bars. We support the immediate release of Reno Francis.
Note: To read more about Reno Francis log onto usobserver.com. Reno’s story can be found in the following issues: 2007-Edition 15, Edition 18, Edition 19 and 2008-Edition 25.