YouTube video, The Oklahoman - Screenshot
© 2023 Blaze Media LLC. All rights reserved.
Braxton Danker, 2, was beaten to death on Mother's Day in 2018. His killer, 32-year-old Khristian Tyler Martzall, was accused of treating him like a "punching bag."
Despite the gravity of the situation and the urgency of ensuring that justice was properly meted out — Martzall was ultimately convicted of second-degree manslaughter and let off with time served — the judge presiding over the case didn't seem capable of taking her eyes off of her phone.
The Oklahoman obtained security videos from the Chandler courtroom, which appear to show Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom perusing Facebook, searching for a GIF, and texting as the trial unfolded, including when the victim's convict mother wept bitterly on the stand.
According to the Oklahoman, Soderstrom, 50, stressed to the jury at the outset of the trial that they must power down their electronic devices or at the very least place them in airplane mode.
"This will allow you to concentrate on the evidence without interruption," instructed Soderstrom.
Soderstrom was apparently immune to distractions or averse to her own advice, because courtroom footage, taken by the ceiling camera that was above her, shows her repeatedly picking up and interacting with her phone during opening statements and testimonies.
District Attorney Adam Panter told the Oklahoman that upon reviewing the footage, he determined the judge had "spent hours of the trial on her cell phone both texting and scrolling through social media."
"It is both shocking and disappointing," said Panter. "Jurors are banned from using cell phones in the courtroom during trials because we expect them to give their full time and attention to the evidence being presented. I would expect and hope the Court would hold itself to the same standard required of the jurors, regardless of the type of case."
According to Panter, the judge subsequently had the camera moved rather than address her behavior.
Defense attorney Velia Lopez, whose client ended up walking out of court rather than catching a first-degree murder conviction as prosecutors had hoped, suggested the distracted judge had done a great job.
"So if she was or was not on the phone, I did not see it," said Lopez.
While the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has never before had to deal with a judge mindlessly texting during a trial, the Oklahoman indicated it could throw out a criminal conviction if "a judge loses control of the trial by being absent from the bench during proceedings."
The Code of Judicial Conduct, to which Oklahoma judges are bound, further states, "A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary," reported the New York Post.
The Associated Press indicated that the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints is investigating Soderstrom.
Taylor Henderson, director on the council, stated that since such misconduct investigations are secret under the law, she could not confirm whether one was under way. However, Sgt. Aaron Bennett of the county sheriff's office declined to give the courtroom footage to the Associated Press, citing its use by the Council on Judicial Complaints.
Soderstrom was elected to her seat last November and sworn in on January 9. Her term ends in 2027.
Her scandal comes just weeks after a suspected killer's murder conviction was overturned because the former Oklahoma County judge who presided over his trial, Tim Henderson, was found to have had an affair with one of the prosecutors assigned the case.
During murder trial, Oklahoma judge repeatedly uses cell phone to text and scroll Facebookyoutu.be
Like Blaze News? Bypass the censors, sign up for our newsletters, and get stories like this direct to your inbox. Sign up here!
Want to leave a tip?
We answer to you. Help keep our content free of advertisers and big tech censorship by leaving a tip today.
Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News.