Man says murder confession was 'coerced' by Montana police

A man authorities say confessed to a 1987 killing in Haskell County is claiming his statement to police was "coerced" and that he had nothing to do with the slaying. A former sheriff's deputy who knew Clifford Eagle said he wasn't surprised to hear the suspect is claiming he made a false confession.
by Andrew Knittle Published: July 2, 2012
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©Copyright 2012, The Oklahoman

A man who walked into the Billings, Mont., police station in April and confessed to the 1987 killing of an Oklahoma county commissioner is now claiming he had nothing to do with the slaying.

Clifford Eagle, who is fighting extradition to Oklahoma, said his statement to Billings police detectives was coerced, and that he was only at the police station to seek help on an unrelated matter.

A former sheriff's deputy questions whether the confession is a lie, and he wonders whether Eagle just likes to be behind bars.

Nevertheless, Eagle, 53, is charged with first-degree murder in Haskell County in the 25-year-old shooting death of Haskell County Commissioner Leo Reasnor, 49.

Billings police say Eagle — who is from Oklahoma and has a lengthy criminal history in the state — walked into their station in April and told them he wanted to get “something off his chest.”

Eagle would go on to say he was involved in Leo Reasnor's death.

Reasnor was found dead inside his pickup on June 25, 1987, by his son and son-in-law. He had a single gunshot wound to the temple and was found slumped over in his truck on some land he owned about four miles southwest of Lequire.

Eagle told investigators he and another man, Vince Allen Johnson, were on a county road in Haskell County when they encountered Reasnor. He said Reasnor accused Johnson of “stealing some of his property” a few moments before the county commissioner was shot dead.

Johnson was executed in 2001 for another murder in Oklahoma.

Billings police Lt. Kevin Iffland said he spoke with the detectives who interviewed Eagle about the Reasnor case.

“I can tell you that the statement wasn't coerced ... he physically came into the station and wanted to give the statement,” Iffland said.

Iffland said the interview with Eagle was recorded “as a courtesy to Oklahoma law enforcement.”

In a letter to The Oklahoman, Eagle claims he went to the Billings police department to seek some kind of assistance from the officers there. What exactly he was seeking help with isn't clear in the letter.

Eagle, who had lived in Oklahoma for many years of his life, was a registered sex offender in Montana at the time of his alleged confession. He pleaded guilty to a Pittsburg County rape in 2003 and to marijuana possession in 1998.

“The confession was coerced by the Billings Police Department after I went to them for help,” Eagle wrote in the letter, which is dated June 12. “I just wanted to let them know that the federal authorities were planning to file false accusations against me in retaliation for trying to file a civil suit claim against the federal government.”

Confession doubted

Eagle also claims in the jailhouse letter that he's been arrested and released in connection with the Reasnor murder investigation on two separate occasions, in 1998 and 2001. He says the information he does have about the murder came from a Haskell County sheriff's deputy who visited him in prison.

“The reason I know so much about this case is because Georgie Ray Terrell, a deputy with the Haskell County sheriff's office (back then), came to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary where I was doing time for arson,” Eagle wrote. “He more or less wanted me to say that me and Vince Johnson killed Leo Reasnor. He gave me all the information.”

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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