Oklahoma woman imprisoned in failure-to-protect case is free

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FILE – In this Aug. 9, 2019 file photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is inmate Tondalao Hall. Hall, who has served 15 years in prison for failing to report her boyfriend, who served just two years behind bars for abusing her children, is scheduled to be released from custody. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections says Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed the commutation sentence of Tondalao Hall and she is to be released Friday Nov. 8, 2019. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP)

McLOUD, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma woman whose sentence for failing to report her boyfriend’s abuse of her children was far harsher than his for the abuse itself wiped away tears and hugged family and friends Friday as she was released after 15 years.

Tondalao Hall, 35, left a women’s prison in McLoud, Oklahoma, after serving about 13 more years behind bars than her boyfriend, who pleaded guilty in 2006 but was released on probation with credit for time served.

“Blessed to be with my family, I just want to be with my family,” Hall said as she walked away from the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center on the eastern edge of Oklahoma City.

The disparity of the sentences outraged women’s rights advocates and brought further attention to Oklahoma’s high rate of incarceration, particularly of women.

Hall’s father, Wazell Hall, 74, said he feared many family members would never see Hall again as a free woman.

“I was afraid that most of my family, her family, would be gone before she got out,” Wazell Hall said.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said Thursday that Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the order to commute her sentence. Her release came about a month after the state Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously to recommend that Stitt commute her sentence to time served.

Hall was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to failing to protect two of her children. The boyfriend, Robert Braxton Jr., pleaded guilty to abusing the children and was released on probation with the credit for the two years he already spent in jail.

While living with Braxton, Hall’s young children suffered broken bones, but no evidence ever indicated Hall committed any violence or harmed her children, ACLU officials said.

“First and foremost, I want to thank God for making a way and for keeping me safe and sane during this season of my life,” Tondalao Hall said earlier in a statement. “Secondly, for all the people God has placed in my life, my children and my family for sticking by me. Time and space cannot accommodate the list of people who have loved, helped, and supported me through all of this, so, to everyone who has, thank you and God bless you!”

The American Civil Liberties Union in 2017 filed a lawsuit challenging what it said was a disproportionate sentence because Braxton was also abusing Hall.

Hall’s release comes days after more than 450 state inmates convicted of drug and property crimes were released Monday. That group was the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history. Hall’s commutation came separately.

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Miller reported from Oklahoma City.

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