Oklahoma coverage


Oklahoma City

A man who has spent 35 years in prison in a murder caser featured in the book and television series “The Innocent Man” must remain incarcerated even after a judge ordered his release, the Associated Press reported.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Tommy Ward, 60, to remain imprisoned while the state appeals the lower court ruling he be released. Ward and co-defendant Karl Fontenot were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the 1984 kidnapping and killing of Donna Denice Haraway, a convenience store clerk in Ada, according to AP.

A Pontotoc County district judge ruled last month prosecutors withheld key evidence in the case, including witness interviews and police reports, and ordered Ward’s release. Fontenot, Ward’s co-defendant, was ordered released by a federal judge in 2019, and the state also is appealing that order, AP reported.

After the details of both men’s confession were proven untrue — Haraway’s body was discovered years later in a different location and had been shot to death not stabbed as the pair had said — a state appeals court ordered new trials. Local prosecutors again secured their convictions, based largely on their earlier “dream confessions,” which came hours after interrogation by Ada police and state agents, according to AP.


An Oklahoma State Department of Health proposal which will make it easier for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children is being criticized by several state medical experts, the Associated Press reported.

The leaders of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma Alliance for Health Families, a provaccination group of medical professionals, both urged the public to voice their concerns about the proposed change. The proposed rule changed comes as state health officials are urging Oklahomans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to AP.

The proposed rule permanently would eliminate a requirement for parents seeking to exempt their children from vaccines watch an educational video about the benefits of vaccinations. Oklahoma law authorizes parents to opt out of immunizing their children by simply providing a written statement, and a summary of the proposed rule change suggests requiring parents to watch an informational video is in conflict with the law, AP reported.

The rule had been temporarily suspended last year, and the new proposal would eliminate it permanently. OSMA President Dr. George Monks said eliminating a requirement for parents to watch an informative video before opting out, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, “is unconscionable,” according to AP.

Oklahoma City

One person was arrested Wednesday as close to 1,000 supporters of President Donald Trump gathered at the Oklahoma State Capitol as a joint session of Congress convened in Washington to confirm the Electoral College vote won by Joe Biden, the Associated Press reported.

Protestors held “Trump 2020” flags and signs which read “Stop the Steal.” Nearly all of the protestors were not wearing masks, and a handful carried long guns, which is legal in Oklahoma. One person was arrested at the Oklahoma State Capitol on complaints of attempted arson, and assault and battery after they attempted to light other people’s flags on fire, according to AP.

While Oklahoma’s protest mostly was peaceful, Trump supporters in Washington stormed the U.S. Capitol. The Oklahoma Legislature was not in session, and much of the crowd dispersed after a light rain began to fall. Trump won Oklahoma with more than 65 percent of the vote in November, AP reported.

Despite President Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were not problems on a scale which would change the outcome, according to AP.

Oklahoma City

The Republican-led Oklahoma House of Representatives Tuesday rejected an attempt by Democrats to require members to wear masks on the house floor and take other steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.

The house and senate each convened for a constitutionally mandated organizational day to formally elect its leaders and seat its elected members. They also voted to adopt rules ahead of the new legislative session which begins February 1. Democratic leader Rep. Emily Virgin proposed several amendments, including requiring members wear masks on the floor and to allow remote participation for meetings and floor votes. All were rejected, according to AP.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed an executive order requiring state employees and visitors to state buildings to wear masks and maintain social distance, but the rule technically doesn’t apply to members of the house and senate, and many Republican legislators opted not to wear masks or socially distance Tuesday, AP reported.

“Why are we acting like an executive order of the governor doesn’t apply to us,” Virgin said. “It applies to visitors. It applies to staff. However it doesn’t apply to legislators. It’s hypocrisy at its finest. It is not about politics. It is about the health and safety of Oklahomans.”

Oklahoma City

Two Oklahoma lobbyists have agreed to pay $115,000 in penalties as part of a settlement announced Tuesday by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, the Associated Press reported.

The settlements by the commission were reached with lobbyists James Milner and James McSpadden who both served as treasurers of the Oklahoman’s for Healthy Living political action committee. According to the settlement agreements, the PAC accepted and distributed illegal corporate contributions and failed to disclose those contributions as required by law, according to AP.

Under the agreements, Milner agreed to pay $65,000 and McSpadden $50,000 to the state’s general fund. McSpadden said in a statement he accepts responsibility for making “unintentional errors.” An attorney for Miler described the agreement as a “painful, but acceptable, end to his cooperation with the investigation,” AP reported.

In the agreements, Milner also agreed to never serve as an office of a PAC while McSpaddden is prohibited from doing so for 10 years, according to AP.