Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Journey to Justice: Garvin County, Oklahoma

By Susan Murphy-Milano

On October 14, I arrived in Garvin County, Oklahoma. I was brought in by family members to review and bring attention to their cases involving possible murder, cover up and corruption. I went to Oklahoma, knowing there were threats to harm me, but I felt this trip was important to secure information about each of these cases in front of new eyes.

What I found was beyond what I expected. There is a difference when meeting these families face to face and going to the actual areas where the crimes took place at "ground zero" instead of looking at photos or talking on the phone. It was immediately apparent to me that something, many things, were wrong with the initial "howdy doody" so-called investigations. This included staging the original crime scenes from bogus shell casings to cleaning up a bloody witness, and removing blood-soaked sheets, blankets or rugs, to actually dragging a body from the inside of a home out to the backyard. And at least one additional murder, possibly two, also directly relate to the cases

Meeting with each individual family was an eye-opener. Seeing, for myself, the landscape in which these crimes were committed would now give these cases a chance at justice. After reviewing never-before-seen crime scene photos, documentation and, in my opinion, new evidence added by the sheer determination of these families, I put the cases of Chanda Turner, Sheila Deviney and Tom Horton, now identified as “The Garvin County Three,” into a national spotlight. I had a lot of help, including a former prosecutor with whom I would report my findings. We would strategize my daily methods of gathering solid information and shipping it out by carrier the next day. You need to establish what is known as "a pattern of conduct." If you build the framework around this, you definitely have a case. And indeed, I did.

It was interesting to go into restaurants and businesses and see firsthand the treatment these families received--some good, some not so good. Like being shunned, or having a contagious disease, people were obviously in fear of being seen talking to them. It was gut-wrenching as I witnessed this happening before my eyes. It reminded me of a time when my own hero of a father murdered my mother before taking his own life. Those in my Chicago community, many of whom I had known my entire life, would publicly turn their backs or threaten my life if I continued “disgracing the Chicago Police Department and maligning my father’s good name."

By day three of my investigation at “ground zero,” the hostile climate turned and the curtain of fear in the surrounding towns of Paul’s Valley, Lindsey, Norman and Maysville began to rise. People were talking about the truth, the facts I was releasing nightly on the nationally syndicated program The Roth Show. People were coming forward providing crucial evidence and supplying statements. One by one, townsfolk expressed their embarrassment for how their community has been portrayed in the national spotlight. You saw them taking a stand with the truth, knowing that if things continued as they always had in Garvin County that justice would never be served and that others might be harmed in the process, possibly one of their own children or loved one.

Working within a system with a scandalous medical examiner’s office, a questionable sheriff, and a small town where families with money help keep things in control, the families of “the Garvin County Three”would not give up. My greatest pleasure, and the best part of my trip, was getting to know them better. These are real people who have been handed one of life’s biggest disservices, injustice.

As my time in Garvin County continued, I was surprised to see that other families were contacting either myself or attorney Jaye Mendros of Justice for the Dead site. This included people who had a lot of information surrounding these cases. It almost seemed as if there was a new consciousness, and some were finding that maybe their own consciences were finally getting the best of them after so many years of holding the secrets. Those secrets are now documented.

In the midst of a controversial upcoming election for a new sheriff in Garvin County, I found the tensions mounting all around me. Many people in the county were trying to keep the old guard in office to keep things as they have been for the last 11 years. Also, maybe some were trying to keep their own loved ones from facing the music they were hiding from behind the very ones who were present on each of the crime scenes of Sheila Deviney, Chanda Turner and Tom Horton, The Garvin County Three.

On November 2, the people of Garvin County spoke up loudly and clearly that it was finally time for a change. They elected to give the old sheriff the boot and bring in someone who has promised to do what is necessary to get their cases re-opened and re-examined. The task facing new Sheriff Larry Rhoades is daunting, and we have to believe that he will see this through.

There is still a lot of work to do in Oklahoma, but the process has begun to get the ball rolling in the right direction. Justice will be served for The Garvin County Three.

There are so many people I would like to thank, and you all know who you are, especially my colleagues here at Women In Crime Ink. Without your support and prayers, this journey would have been much more difficult. Also, a special thanks to Dr. Laurie Roth and Doug Hagmann; I always knew you had my back every step of the way. And to those now at the beginning stages of the preliminary investigation as it relates to the long-awaited truth for Chanda Turner, Sheila Deviney, Tom Horton and each of their families who know justice is now a step closer.

5 comments:

Kathryn Casey said...

We were worried about you, Susan, but we understood what you were doing and why. And we're very proud of you and your fight for justice. Congratulations on a job well done.

Cathy Scott said...

Very proud of you, Susan. Congrats!

jayemendros said...

Thank you for everything you are doing to help these families, Susan!

Dr. Gina Simmons said...

We admire your courage and dedication to justice. Honorable work for those who can no longer help themselves. Kudos!

Darrell said...

This is to all of you ladies who are concerned with women being abused and having their Civil Rights violated by so called Law Officers... Please read in the Koshkonong Missouri Forum, the thread titled "A Mysterious Life of W.J. Barrett". Joy Barrett was found dead of "unknown causes" and her body was rushed straight to a local Funeral Home with orders that there be "no autopsy" by the very Police Officer she said would kill her.