About James L. Hankins



No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were.  Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII, by John Donne (1624)


It’s just a hell of a lot easier doing time with murderers than it is with fools.

Paul John Fitzpatrick, convicted murderer in Florida, explaining to the judge why he wished to be sentenced to death, in order to avoid the hassle of living among the young inmates in the general prison population.  The judge went against the 8-4 vote of the jury, choosing instead to sentence Fitzpatrick to life imprisonment.


THE OKLAHOMAN 04.30.2017

NEW YORK TIMES 04.21.2014

OKLAHOMA BAR JOURNAL, (Vol. 87, No. 8, 03/12/2016) (Self-Defense)


I am an attorney in private practice, and am available to assist you in your criminal case. I was born in Enid, Oklahoma, in October, 1968, while my father was engaged in his tour of duty in Vietnam as an Army grunt with the 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightning). He eventually returned to Enid, and became a policeman, which meant that I grew up around cops my entire childhood (at one time my father was a cop in Enid, as were four of my uncles!)

After I graduated from High School, I, too decided to become a policeman, and transferred to Northwestern Oklahoma State University at Alva, Oklahoma, to enroll in the Law Enforcement program, which I completed in 1990. During my studies in Alva, I took several classes from Professor Glen Jenlink (now deceased), who has probably taught half the cops in Oklahoma, and became increasingly interested in the court opinions that we sometimes studied.  My favorite part of class was arguing with Professor Jenlink about the nuances of the Supreme Court cases he had assigned us to study.

Gradually, I became more interested in the legal system and the administration of rules governing the behavior of cops than in actually becoming a cop myself. So, after I graduated from NWOSU in 1990, I took the LSAT, did well on it, and was accepted into the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

My affinity for legal research and writing eventually landed me a spot on The Oklahoma Law Review, which rigorously tested my writing and editing skills. I devoted a lot of time and energy to a paper about Oklahoma’s then-new law on the new crime of stalking, and eventually had it published as a Comment in the Review at 46 Okla. L. Rev. 109 (1993).

After receiving my law degree in May, 1993, it was time to study for the Bar Exam and try to find a job.  Since I wanted to move back to Enid, where I was from and where my parents were born, I interviewed with Stephen Jones, perhaps the most well-known and respected criminal defense lawyer in the state.  Stephen hired me, although I lived for the next several months in Norman while I studied for the Bar Exam.  He did mention that he wanted me to work on a brief that needed to be filed in the Tenth Circuit in a “little habeas case” to which he was appointed under the Criminal Justice Act.

The “little habeas case” turned out to be the multiple death-penalty appeal of death row inmate Roger Dale Stafford who, before Timothy McVeigh came along, was without a doubt the most hated man in Oklahoma.  Roger had been convicted of murdering 9 persons in two separate incidents–six employees at the Sirloin Stockade restaurant in Oklahoma City, and the three members of the Lorenz family–including their 12-year-old son–who had stopped on the side of I-35 to help what appeared to be a stranded female motorist (it was actually Verna Stafford).

Stephen delivered the file to me in Norman, 15 boxes of transcripts, pleadings, evidence, and correspondence, and thus I began working on my very first case.  Luckily, I passed the Bar Exam while working on Roger’s appeal, and eventually moved to Enid to work at Stephen’s office full time.

During the time that Roger faced execution (it happened on July 1, 1995, Stephen’s birthday, a day as surreal as any I have ever lived, sitting next to Stephen and watching the State kill our client), Timothy McVeigh was arrested for blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City.  Stephen got the call to represent McVeigh, and thus I found myself in Enid representing Roger Dale Stafford and Timothy McVeigh at the same time.

Stephen is a brilliant man and a superior lawyer, and it was during my time working for him that I learned the proper way to draft and argue appeals, motions, and to try criminal cases.  After the McVeigh trial, I felt ready to get out on my own, and eventually I gravitated toward Oklahoma City.

In the early 2000s, I worked briefly for another legal titan of Oklahoma criminal defense, John W. Coyle, III.  Like Stephen, I learned a tremendous amount of legal insight from John, and I am proud to say that I consider both of them friends as well as mentors.

Today, I tend to take more appellate and post-conviction cases than trial cases, but I still like getting in the courtroom occasionally.  However, my real passion is to craft appellate arguments for clients who have already been convicted.  This is the bulk of my practice, and I spend the great majority of my time drafting appeals in the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and in the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (I am also admitted to the Fifth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court).

The Notable Cases link above goes to a page in which I have summarized some of the notable wins in my career, although not all.  Sometimes a “win” in a criminal case takes the form of a good plea deal, a dismissal by the State for various reasons, or a modification of a harsh sentence.

I look forward to discussing your case and exploring the ways that I can help.

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