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criminal justice

Johnny Tallbear said he was “happy” to be released after his conviction was vacated by the Oklahoma County District Court.
Nick Oxford / Innocence Project

Johnny Tallbear has proclaimed his innocence for 26 years. Now, people are listening to him. 

 

DNA tests ordered by the Innocence Project led prosecutors to ask a judge to dismiss a first-degree murder charge levied against Tallbear, which led to his conviction and life-prison sentence in 1992. 

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Canadian County Sheriff Chris West sits in a dimly lit office decorated with hunting trophies and law enforcement memorabilia. 

West is visibly frustrated when he says the Oklahoma Department of Corrections owes his county $88,691 for at least two years of jail costs — and he isn’t the only one complaining. The Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association says the state is shortchanging most counties for housing state prison inmates.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

For Oklahomans accused of low-level crimes like possessing small amounts of drugs or public intoxication, getting out of jail free while the case is pending often depends less on the nature of the charge than on what county they are arrested in.

Court data shows that counties have widely varying rates of pretrial release of misdemeanor defendants without requiring cash bail.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

A new dog-training facility opened this week at Oklahoma’s largest women-only prison.

Corrections officials and women enrolled in the Guardian Angels program at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McCloud have waited four years for upgrades to the facility, which now has a designated building, a new kennel and exercise area with obstacles — and a new grooming area and a walking path.

Previously, dogs were trained on the prison’s bare yard and anywhere else program officials could find space. 

Dario Lopez-Mills / KGOU

The estate of a 16-year-old boy who committed suicide in a Muskogee juvenile detention center has filed a lawsuit against multiple government agencies and employees arguing the boy’s life could have “easily” been saved if staff had done their jobs.

Dario Lopez-Mills / AP Images

The estate of a 16-year-old boy who committed suicide in a Muskogee juvenile detention center has filed a lawsuit against multiple government agencies and employees arguing the boy’s life could have “easily” been saved if staff had done their jobs.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Baby Roman is just waking up from his afternoon nap and now he’s looking for a toy. His grandfather, Frank McCarrell, is trying to distract him from the house’s décor with a bottle of milk.

“He don’t usually be asleep this time,” said McCarrell, who just finished his workday to babysit for his daughter. “When I come home … usually he’s up and raring to go. Huh? You be running Papa around?

Oklahoma House of Representatives

The daughter of a state House leader who pushed a bill to protect the right to sentence juveniles to life without parole is a district attorney who seeks such a sentence in a Custer County case.

But District Attorney Angela Marsee, daughter of House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, said she sees no conflict of interest in her working with her father to help draft the amended bill, which passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin Friday.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Legislature adjourned onThursday night, ending its yearly session three weeks before the constitutional deadline on May 25.  

After two special sessions left over from last year’s budget woes, a teacher protest that lasted almost two weeks and more than a year of struggling to find funds for state services, lawmakers passed a $7.6 billion dollar state budget in April, the largest in state history.  Here’s a few more of state lawmakers’ accomplishments this year.

 

Teacher Pay Raise:

Senate Sends Teen Life Without Parole Bill To Governor

May 4, 2018
Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

State Senators sent Gov. Mary Fallin new standards for sentencing teens to life without parole Wednesday.

The standards were requested by state district attorneys and are a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ban on mandatory life without parole sentences for teens.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Tucker McGee is in prison for murdering teenager JaRay Wilson. McGee was days away from turning 18. Now, more than five years after the murder, Legislators and district attorneys fear his sentence of life in prison without parole is on the verge of being reduced.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Legislature gave final approval on four criminal justice reform bills and sent them to the governor Tuesday. Here’s a breakdown of the measures and what they’re designed to do:

Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

This story was updated April 17.

Oklahoma’s prison population will continue to grow in the years ahead — the only question is how much.

A marquee slate of criminal justice reform bills fall short of what Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, a little over a year ago, recommended to curb incarceration rates and provide alternatives to prison.

Mike Stewart / AP Images

Killing another person can have legal consequences even when the shooter says it was self-defense.

The state Legislature is moving to guard Oklahomans in places of worship from prosecution if they use deadly force to defend themselves during religious services.

The Senate on Thursday followed the House in passing House Bill 2632, which extends protections provided under the state’s "stand your ground law to places of worship.

Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

John Whitfield was just a mile or two away from his home in northeast Oklahoma City when he noticed police lights in his rear-view mirror during a spring night in 2016.

Whitfield, who is black, said he didn’t think he was speeding or had committed any other traffic infraction. He said he had gone to the store because he was out of soap.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

The colorless, odorless gas makes up 78 percent of our air.

Yet it is used in some assisted suicides in Europe. It is touted by some advocates for industry euthanasia of animals. And the gas – nitrogen – is what U.S. Air Force pilots are exposed to during high-altitude tests that gauge their reaction to reduced oxygen and can render them unconscious.

Now Oklahoma plans to use nitrogen in its death-penalty chamber.

 

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday announced a compromise between district attorneys and Republican lawmakers on six bills they say will reduce Oklahoma’s prison population while maintaining public safety.

One criminal justice reform advocacy group is criticizing the timing of the announcement because the bills’ language still hasn’t been made public.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

More than 30 people sit uncomfortably on hard, wooden benches under the watchful eyes of Judge Tim Henderson. It’s late morning in Henderson’s courtroom at the Oklahoma County courthouse. Some people have been waiting for hours.

Most of these people are on probation, and they’re anxiously waiting for their chance to make a deal. Judge Henderson says these people broke their plea agreements.

Every new male inmate in the Oklahoma prison system arrives through this gate at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center in Cleveland County. Blood is drawn from inmates for testing and certain results can lead to further tests for hepatitis C.
Oklahoma Watch

Inmates in Oklahoma prisons must have advanced liver disease before becoming eligible for treatment of hepatitis C, a potentially deadly and growing disease.

The situation in prisons pits the enormous cost of treatment against the public health gains of curing one of the populations most at risk for the viral infection.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin delivered her final State of the State address at the Oklahoma Capitol on Feb. 6, 2018.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

FULL TRANSCRIPT: 

Gov. Mary Fallin: Thank you very much. Lieutenant Gov. Lamb, statewide elected officials, Speaker [Charles] McCall, President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, members of the court, honorable senators and representatives, cabinet members, statewide elected officials, and our tribal leaders that have joined us here today, and most of all, the great citizens of Oklahoma – welcome. It’s good-- to have you all here.

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