Dark money behind negative ads aimed at Gov. Stitt

TULSA, Okla. — A dark money group putting out negative ads against Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt continues to link him to the murder of three people in 2021 in Chickasha, but what really happened to Lawrence Paul Anderson and Stitt’s actions that set him free are not as clear cut as the ad would have the public think.

For the second time this campaign season, the group Conservative Voices For America released an ad on Oklahoma TV channels highlighting Anderson’s release from prison where he would then go on to kill one woman, cut her heart out, carry it across the street to Anderson’s relatives, sauté the heart with some potatoes, and when his family members wouldn’t eat the items, he killed them too.

The ad has many truths to it, including the vicious murders, but things are far more complicated than the ad explains.

Anderson was released from prison as part of the state’s mass commutation efforts on January 2021 as part of a major criminal justice reform movement aimed at reducing Oklahoma’s prison population. Anderson was serving a 20 year sentence for a mix of gun and drug charges. According to his profile from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Anderson had shown no homicidal or even violent tendencies except for pointing a firearm at someone and one charge of domestic violence. However, Anderson has been in and out of DOC for multiple crimes since the 1990s.

It was the drug charges that caught the attention of the state Pardon and Parole Board because at the time, the state had just made criminal justice reform efforts retroactive and lowered the punishment for many drug crimes. Anderson’s sentence was commuted down to nine years, and after only serving three years in prison, he was released.

It’s the process that allowed him to be released is what the negative dark money ads leave out.

The Pardon and Parole Board originally denied a request for commutation in July 2019, and no further action was taken. However, a new request was entered for Anderson on January 2020, and that request was approved by a vote of 3-1. That recommendation was then handed to Stitt as what appeared on the surface to be just another person incarcerated for drug crimes. Stitt went on to sign off on the commutation of Anderson’s sentence down to nine years.

Despite the sentence being lowered to nine years, Anderson was released after just three years, and three weeks later, Anderson would go on to kill 41-year-old Andrea Blankenship, cut her heart out, brought her heart across the street to his Aunt and Uncle’s home, cooked Blankenship’s heart with potatoes, and when Anderson’s relatives refused to eat the organs, he killed his uncle, wounded his aunt, and killed their four year old granddaughter.

Stitt ordered the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into the actions after saying he commuted Anderson’s sentence on the advice of Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director Tom Bates.

Stitt said in a letter to OSBI he was concerned about whether the board violated law and established rules when it came to giving out clemency, especially in the case of Anderson and in the case of another inmate released but returned to custody Jonathan Perez.

In 2018, the Board changed its policies to be that someone denied commutation must wait three years until their request can be considered again. Clearly in the case of Anderson that did not happen.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater had convened a grand jury to look into the actions of the Pardon and Parole Board, but the investigation appears to have stalled for now on multiple levels.