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Atheist Chaplain Attends Atheist Oklahoma Prisoner During Execution

In the final hours before Oklahoma killed Phillip Hancock on November 30, 2023, he was attended by a chaplain, like almost all condemned prisoners. Unlike most though, Hancock was an atheist. So was his chaplain, Devin Moss. As the last minutes of Hancock’s life ticked away, the two shared encouragement from the Christian New Testament to meditate on “whatever things are true.”

Hancock, 59, was convicted of the 2001 murders of Robert Jett, Jr., 37, and James Lynch, 58, reputed members of an outlaw motorcycle gang who lured him to their home and tried to cage him before he wrestled a pistol from one and shot both dead. His pleas of self-defense went unheeded at trial but eventually persuaded the state Pardon and Parole Board to recommend clemency on November 8, 2023.

By then, Hancock was scheduled for lethal injection. With just hours to go, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) refused to commute his sentence, without offering an explanation. In a viral video shot a year before, Stitt—who attends an Assembly of God church—offered a prayer in which he claimed “every square inch” of Oklahoma “in the name of Jesus.”

Hancock was also raised in an Assembly of God church, through tumultuous family struggles and violence. His relationship with faith shifted after imprisonment, a quest for identity that ultimately led him to reject a god he perceived as “maniacal” and “narcissistic.”

“The good Christians are going to strap me to a crucifix and put a nail in my vein?” he asked Moss. “Do they really think that their God approves of them?”

Moss, 48, was also raised Christian before rejecting the faith. He served as spiritual adviser during Hancock’s last year, even moving from Brooklyn to Oklahoma the last few months. In a setting where faith usually plays a crucial role, he struggled to offer solace in the absence of religious belief.

“It’s well known that people that really believe, that really have faith, die better,” he said. “How can we help people die better that don’t have supernatural faith?”

Hancock candidly admitted that he requested someone in the death chamber for fear of a botched execution, like the one in 2014 that tortured Clayton Lockett for 45 minutes before the needle was finally pulled from his arm. Lockett died of a heart attack shortly afterward, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.44.] But Hancock didn’t let fear that recorded calls with Moss would be reviewed prevent him from exploring existential questions.

“Nonexistence didn’t bother me before I existed,” he eventually decided. “I don’t think it’s going to bother me after I’m dead.”

As Hancock lay on the execution gurney, Moss circled back to that New Testament quote. “What is real is that you are loved,” Moss told him. “What is true is you are not alone.”


Sources: Daily Mail, New York Times, The Oklahoman

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