Editor's Note: This story is part one of a three-part series examining the operations of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. It is a joint project of The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World.
Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman
An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation insider has accused the agency of "incompetence, laziness and fraud" in its handling of homicide cases, use of federal funds and publication of crime clearance rates.
He says the agency has allowed murder suspects — linked to crimes by DNA, witnesses and other evidence — to wander free.
And he describes OSBI as an agency at war with itself, rife with internal distrust and conflict between field agents and laboratory workers.
Kyle Eastridge, a veteran Oklahoma City police homicide detective, was hired by OSBI as a cold case investigator in January. He resigned July 15.
"The OSBI is a high performance car — you've got the state-of-the-art crime lab, the equipment, all the extras — driven by amateur drivers," Eastridge told The Oklahoman. "I blame the leadership. I hope the OSBI Commission will really investigate what's going on there and get someone competent in place."
Jessica Brown, OSBI spokeswoman, said Eastridge is misinformed. She said the cases he cited are in the hands of district attorneys, not the OSBI.
The commission, a seven-member board overseeing the agency, is expected to name an interim director Tuesday to succeed A. DeWade Langley, who has accepted a position at the University of Central Oklahoma. The commission is planning a nationwide search for his permanent successor.
Langley canceled an interview with The Oklahoman last week after reviewing a list of topics reporters wanted to discuss with him. He addressed some of the issues in a letter.
Stanley Glanz, Tulsa County sheriff and commission vice chair, said: "I think some of the criticism is undeserved. They have a lot of difficult cases they're working with. ... They do the best they can with the funds they are given and the agents they have."
OSBI agents investigate some of the state's highest profile crimes, particularly those which occur outside of major metropolitan areas. Because the agency has little original jurisdiction, most OSBI investigations are done at the request of local law enforcement.
OSBI also provides support operations for other agencies, including advanced forensics work used by prosecutors in violent crime cases. Assets include a $30 million crime lab in Edmond.
Eastridge alleges that:
Among those cases is the 1982 death of Wilfredo Osorio. An Oklahoma County prosecutor was willing to file charges seven years ago, but the case disappeared into OSBI's bureaucratic "limbo" and nothing was done, Eastridge said. Another case has languished for five years.
Eastridge blamed the alleged lapses on laziness and insufficient supervision.
"People don't want to follow through on things because it's a hassle. ... I really don't see how you can justify that mentality when you're dealing with the biggest hurt someone can be dealt in their life: the loss of a loved one," he said. "But they do it anyway."
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said his office does not have the Osorio case.
"The information we have is that the assistant DA who screened the case sent it back (to OSBI) for more work, and from all our records and research, it never made it back to our office," he said.
"It's totally bogus," Eastridge said. "They were declaring those numbers as fact while they were still gathering the information from all the field offices."
The OSBI announced its homicide clearance rates at a news conference in April. At the time, the agency was being criticized by a legislator and the FBI over the way it handled the Aja Johnson investigation. Aja, 7, was abducted by her stepfather, who killed her and then himself.
The 83.7 percent figure was the five-year low. The high was in 2005, when OSBI cleared 96 percent of its homicide and suspicious death cases.
Eastridge and a number of other sources have questioned the accuracy of OSBI's numbers.
"The national average used to be around 65 percent," Eastridge said. "It was always considered pretty good if you could get a clearance rate a little over the national average. They're saying their clearance rates are in the 80 and 90 percents. It's absurd."
"One of the first things that anybody said to me when I started working around the lab was, 'The agents hate us, and we think it's funny,'" Eastridge said.
Field agents are frustrated by how long it takes to get evidence processed by the lab, he said.
In his letter to The Oklahoman, Langley said there is no schism within OSBI.
"Concerning alleged divisiveness at the agency between lab personnel and field agents, it is just that — alleged," he wrote. "These are separate divisions under one agency. Each division has its own expertise all working together to seek justice. These divisions work closely on many cases and work well."
Eastridge was an Oklahoma City police officer for almost 25 years and spent the latter portion of his career investigating homicides and cold cases. He and his partner helped close some of the city's most notorious unsolved cases, including the grisly 1989 murder of Audrey Harris and the 1986 abduction and killing of Kathy Sue Engle.
"He's very knowledgeable," said Cris Cunningham, a homicide detective who worked with Eastridge for eight years. "He's always willing to work the case. He does a heck of a job. He's really tenacious."
He retired early in order to take a special investigator position in OSBI's newly created cold case unit. The unit is funded by a National Institute of Justice grant.
"Eastridge's job as provided in the grant was to locate DNA evidence, collect it from law enforcement offices across the state, and submit it for testing at the OSBI lab," Langley said in his letter. "After testing, if a DNA profile was matched in CODIS (a national DNA database), an investigator would then begin his work.
"Under the specifics of the grant, investigators would not start until a match was made. He was clearly frustrated as an investigator operating under these restrictions. The absolute necessity to strictly adhere to the terms of the grant is far more important than placating the desires of an individual investigator."
But Eastridge said the grant was mismanaged from the beginning. Money was wasted, he said, on cases that were past the statute of limitations.
"There was no priority given to these limited federal dollars," he said. "It costs $500 to $1,000 to run a DNA test. Why waste it on cases you can never prosecute when you have cases that you can? Murders and sexual assaults should be the top priority, but they were given equal priority with second-
A routine federal audit of the grant was to begin Friday. Eastridge said he has contacted the Justice Department and offered his assistance.
"The audit will determine if funds are being used appropriately," he said. "If not, they won't get a renewed grant. I think OSBI needs this grant to help the families of the victims, but they can't afford to squander it."