Former Gov. Brad Henry told jurors Wednesday that he vetoed a reform bill creating a new job at the medical examiner's office in part because of rumors a state senator was getting the position.
“When I vetoed the bill, clearly those rumors were in my mind and I was concerned,” Henry said.
Henry, a Democrat, was the seventh prosecution witness to testify at the political bribery trial for former state Rep. Randy Terrill.
Terrill, a Republican, is accused of offering then-Sen. Debbe Leftwich, a Democrat, an $80,000 a year job at the medical examiner's office to not run for re-election in 2010.
Prosecutors allege Terrill wanted to help his friend, state Rep. Mike Christian, a Republican, who was planning to run for her Senate seat.
Henry testified for 75 minutes, telling news reporters afterward it was hard to do because he considers both Terrill and Leftwich friends. He said he told the truth.
“The chips will fall where they may,” he told reporters.
Henry testified he vetoed the reform bill on June 6, 2010, even though he thought the legislation contained much-needed improvements to the medical examiner's office.
“It was a mess,” he said of the agency. “I didn't veto the bill lightly because we needed the reforms.”
He explained to jurors that he acted because the bill created the position of transition coordinator at the agency. “I thought it was totally unnecessary,” he said.
He called the $80,000 a year salary “a waste of money.”
He read to jurors his veto message. In it, he told legislators: “At a time when the state has been forced to cut many important programs and services, the creation of such a position cannot be justified or supported.”
The veto came after Henry became aware Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater was investigating the creation of the position.
He also vetoed a bill that would have sent $90,000 to the medical examiner's office from a fund at the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.
Henry said he heard the rumors the position was going to Leftwich from two Democratic legislators on May 28, 2010, the last day of the legislative session. “The two legislators were upset about it,” he said.
He said he heard the rumors after Leftwich announced she would not seek re-election.
He said everyone was “abuzz” about her announcement.
Terrill's defense attorney, Chris Eulberg, asked whether the former governor considered Terrill to be an honest person.
“As far as I know,” Henry answered.
“I've never known him to do anything dishonest.”
Jurors also heard Wednesday from Christian, who testified Terrill in late May 2010 told him “to keep your mouth shut.”
Christian told jurors Terrill admonished him at the Capitol because he had talked at an end-of-the-session party about speculation Leftwich was going to work at the medical examiner's office. He told jurors he had been drinking at the party and said things he shouldn't have.
He said Leftwich later put her arm around him and said, “You need to be quiet, or you're going to get me in trouble.”
He said he did not know of any bribery scheme and said he never heard Terrill promise Leftwich a job. “If there had been any impropriety, I would have been the first to cry foul,” he told jurors.
He said he was dumbfounded when he first heard of the bribery allegations. “I couldn't believe it,” he said.
Christian told jurors he dropped out of the Senate race because he, too, was under investigation. He ran instead for his south Oklahoma City House seat and was re-elected.
He was not charged.
He admitted to jurors that he lied to Leftwich in March 2010 when she asked him whether he was going to run against her. He said she was crying when she confronted him at the Capitol after hearing about a poll of voters in her district.
“I said, ‘I don't know what you're talking about,'” he testified. “We were trying to run a stealth campaign.”
Terrill denies wrongdoing. His attorney said he will testify in his own defense that he never promised Leftwich a job.
At the time, Terrill was chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversaw the medical examiner's office.
Two other legislators also testified Wednesday.
Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, said she asked Terrill where the money was coming from for the new transition coordinator position.
“He said he had his own private slush fund,” she testified. “He just smiled.”
Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, testified about a conversation he had with Leftwich on April 19, 2010, the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. He recalled Leftwich saying she had been working at the medical examiner's office at the time of the attack.
Anderson testified she then said “she was working on a deal with my leadership to go back there but could not talk about it.”
He said it would be very unusual for Republican legislative leaders to work with a Democratic senator. “I think she was offered an opportunity she couldn't resist,” he said.
Anderson called Terrill a bully. He told jurors Terrill once “asked if I wanted to fight him in the rotunda of the Capitol.” The two did not end up fighting.
Terrill, 44, of Moore, is charged with a felony — offering a bribe to a candidate to withdraw. The trial is expected to go into next week.
Leftwich, 62, of Oklahoma City, also is charged with a felony — soliciting and/or accepting the bribe to withdraw. Her jury trial is set to begin Dec. 9.
If convicted, each faces up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.