"Frontier justice" costs too many citizens of all races, creeds, and backgrounds their freedom and their lives. In the old days of the Wild West, vigilantes worked outside the judicial system to punish rivals regardless of their guilt or innocence. Today, outlaws operate inside the bureaucracy to secure criminal convictions at all costs.
Oklahoma — the notorious home of "Hang 'Em High" executions — stands out for its decades of trampling due process, subverting public disclosure, perpetuating forensic junk science, manufacturing false accusations and enabling official misconduct.
Since 1993, 35 wrongfully convicted Oklahomans have been officially exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations; 15 inmates have been freed in the past decade. Almost half of the state's exonerees had been convicted of murder; 17 percent for sexual assault. The reign of prosecutorial terror and forensic error by the late Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy and rogue Oklahoma City police department crime lab analyst Joyce Gilchrist resulted in at least 11 wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project. Those victims included:
Exoneree Curtis McCarty, who was sent to death row for a stabbing and strangulation murder after Macy withheld evidence and Gilchrist falsified blood evidence and destroyed hair evidence.
Exoneree Robert Lee Miller Jr., another death row inmate falsely convicted of two rapes and two murders based on a coerced confession and atrocious forensic misconduct involving junk analysis of semen, blood, saliva, human hair and dog hair.
Exoneree Jeffrey Pierce, who was falsely convicted of rape in 1986 based on Gilchrist's misconduct and won a $4 million settlement from Oklahoma City.
Exoneree David Bryson, who was wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and rape and freed after 18 years in prison when Gilchrist's destruction of evidence was discovered and follow-up DNA testing excluded him as the attacker.
Law enforcement and legal insiders alike have shared stories with me about good ol' boys club corruption that crosses party lines in the Sooner State. Government prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys routinely cut deals. Judges bend over backwards to preserve "harmless errors" caused by flawed investigations, faulty verdicts and clerical incompetence. Police brass retaliate against whistleblowers. And, according to one veteran cop, Oklahoma City is a hopeless "nest of incestuous nepotism."
Unlike neighboring Texas, where Dallas County prosecutors founded the first conviction integrity unit in the country (sparking the creation of 30 such agencies nationwide), not a single Oklahoma district attorney's office has established an official mechanism to review tainted convictions. Nor does Oklahoma have anything like the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which investigates professional misconduct by crime labs and other entities that conduct forensic analyses used in criminal proceedings. The Texas panel was created in the wake of the infamous scandal at the Houston Police Department crime lab a decade ago and its audits led to the more recent shutdown of the Austin PD's mess of a crime lab.