A prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that former state Rep. Randy Terrill was motivated by his ego when he manipulated a state senator from the opposite party into not running for re-election.
“Some people like to control things, to be the power broker,” Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Harmon said in his opening statement at Terrill's political bribery trial.
“Some people like to be the ones calling the shots. He was becoming the person at the Capitol calling the shots,” the prosecutor said.
Terrill, 44, of Moore, is charged with a felony — offering a bribe to a candidate to withdraw. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Prosecutors allege Terrill, a Republican, in 2010 offered then-Sen. Debbe Leftwich, a Democrat, a new $80,000-a-year state job at the medical examiner's office to not run for re-election.
Prosecutors allege Republicans hoped to take Leftwich's seat so that they would have enough votes to override any veto if a Democrat won the governor's race in the 2010 elections.
“They wanted power,” Harmon said in the opening statement.
The assistant district attorney also told jurors that Leftwich was led to believe she would have lost her re-election bid even though a Republican-sponsored poll showed she likely would have won.
“It centered around power, control, influence, manipulation,” Harmon said of Terrill's motive.
Terrill denies wrongdoing.
His defense attorney, Chris Eulberg, told jurors Terrill was a hardworking legislator with a reputation at the Capitol for being a bulldog who got things done. The attorney said Terrill was trying to help the medical examiner's office overcome turmoil so severe that bodies sometimes stacked up.
In his opening statement, the defense attorney wrote on a chalk board five problems with the prosecution's case.
He said that the evidence will show Terrill had no authority to offer any state job, that the job at the medical examiner's office never existed and that Leftwich was legally prohibited from accepting it. He called the prosecution's case “whistles and bells and smoke and mirrors.”
The defense attorney also told jurors that Terrill will testify in his own defense that there was absolutely no deal with Leftwich, that he didn't care if she ran again and that he did not promise her a job.
Leftwich, now 62, also is charged with a felony — soliciting and/or accepting the bribe to withdraw. Her jury trial is set for December. She did not run for re-election.
Jurors began hearing testimony after the opening statements Tuesday.
The first witness was Cherokee Ballard, the former public information officer and legislative liaison at the medical examiner's office.
She recalled being summoned to a meeting at Terrill's office at the Capitol on May 17, 2010. She was with Tom Jordan, then the chief administrative officer at the medical examiner's office.
She said Terrill pressured Jordan to hire Leftwich to a new state job that was going to be included in a bill reforming the agency.
“He got up and shut the door and said, ‘Now, this is dead man's talk,'” she testified. She explained that she took that to mean to keep the conversation confidential.
She said Terrill came up with Leftwich's salary for the position — a transition coordinator — by asking her and Jordan how much they made. Ballard made $70,000 a year at the time and Jordan made $90,000 a year.
“And he said, ‘Well, she'll be making somewhere in between,'” she testified.
After the meeting, she and Jordan agreed Terrill's plan “didn't pass the smell test,” she said.
But, she added, “We felt like we didn't have a choice.”
Jordan, a former deputy director for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, recalled the May 17, 2010, meeting much the same way. He said Terrill asked him, “Who's better suited for this position than Debbe Leftwich?”
At the time, Terrill was chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee that oversaw the medical examiner's office. Leftwich had worked at the medical examiner's office before becoming a senator.
Shortly after the May 17, 2010, meeting, Jordan decided to take a new job at Chaparral Energy, an oil and gas exploration company. He said Terrill still pressured him one last time to hire Leftwich before starting his new job.
He said he met with Terrill and Leftwich on June 2, 2010, in the diner at the Warren Theatre in Moore.
“The majority of the meeting centered around the transition coordinator position and about Sen. Leftwich filling that position and my obligation to make that happen,” Jordan said.
He said he refused because the reform bill had not been signed into law.
The bill was later vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry.
The transition coordinator was to have coordinated the move of the medical examiner's headquarters from Oklahoma City to a new facility in Edmond. Jordan told jurors he never would have hired Leftwich for the position anyway because she was not qualified to oversee the new building's construction.