Greg Mashburn keeps getting the emails that call him an idiot and a racist and a chauvinist. Then he reminds himself of something.
“I asked for this job,” Mashburn said.
Mashburn’s job is district attorney for Cleveland, McClain and Garvin counties. Which makes his job a little different from most prosecutors. He’s the DA in a college football town.
Tom Lee knows what that’s like. “I feel his pain,” said Lee, district attorney for Payne and Logan counties.
When a football or basketball player gets in trouble, the jobs of Mashburn and Lee are thrust quickly under the microscope. Such as Mashburn for the last month in the Joe Mixon affair.
Two goofy college students let a confrontation escalate, and suddenly all of Oklahoma cares and all of America knows about it. And Mashburn has to make a decision with everyone chiming in their opinion.
“I have been shocked at the amount of scrutiny compared to some of the high-profile cases I’ve done,” Mashburn said. He has prosecuted some grisly crimes. The murder of children. The murder of families, in grotesque ways. Mashburn names a couple of the cases you would remember.
“I don’t think I got one phone call from the public on those cases,” Mashburn said.
And yet he’s avalanched by the electorate on Mixon, a freshman OU tailback who was accused of hitting a coed on Norman’s Campus Corner in the wee hours of July 25. Mashburn last weekend filed one misdemeanor count of an act resulting in gross injury. The fellow student, Amelia Molitor, was not charged. And the outrage has flowed.
“It’s really been on both sides,” Mashburn said. “‘You’re a racist; you’re not going to file on her. You’re picking on her. Let’s break your face in four places.’”
Mashburn and his staff make decisions like that every day. But few pay attention.
“It’s difficult that it immediately is in the public eye’s and everybody’s wanting to know what you’re going to do or why you’ve done what you’ve done,” said Lee, 67, who has been a Payne County prosecutor for 20 years, the last three as district attorney. “Fifty percent of the people are mad. Either the fans because you filed against a player, or the other 50 percent, if you don’t file, believe you’re giving them preferential treatment.”
Both Mashburn and Lee say they don’t face pressure or even curiosity from university personnel, athletic or otherwise, when dealing with a case. That’s what you’d expect them to say, of course, but it stands to reason, too. If it ever became known that Burns Hargis or Joe Castiglione or Mike Gundy or Bob Stoops tried to exert influence, they would come off looking bad. They would come off looking really bad.
“Our relationship with OSU is good,” Lee said. “Especially with the OSU police department. They take the attitude, ‘if they committed the crime, file it.’ That goes even beyond the police department. The university, they do not pressure us at all, either way.”
David Boren, Castiglione and Stoops famously visited Mashburn on Monday, after the Mixon charge was filed Friday. Mashburn said he heard from OU on Friday after the charge was filed.
“I can say that for 100 percent certainty, those guys have never called me before I ever made a decision, in any case,” Mashburn said. “We’ve had football players get in trouble, over eight years, I never get phone calls from ’em. They say, ‘We won’t call you. You do your job, and that’s it.’ That’s been definitely true.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. That allows me the flexibility to do my job.”
Mashburn said the trio came Monday just wanting to know what the investigation revealed. Mashburn filled them in, they asked to see the much-discussed video tape and Mashburn complied.
“They asked a few question, they said, ‘we need to go do our job now,’ then they left,” Mashburn said.
Mashburn, 42, grew up in Idabel and graduated from OU’s law school. He admits the public scrutiny on a case like Mixon’s grows old.
“You’d be lying if you said it doesn’t grind on you a little bit,” Mashburn said. “But time and time again, it comes down to, what would I do in a regular case? What would I do if it was a couple of students? What would I do if it was an 18-year-old and 20-year-old?” and one of them wasn’t a five-star football recruit.
“Certainly you know it’s going to be under a microscope. But I do think I’m still able to make the decision I would have made in every other case.”
Lee, who plans to retire and is not running for reelection, grew up in Yale, about 20 miles from Stillwater, and went to Oklahoma City University’s law school. Lee said another problem in a college town is that sometimes half the residents know about something by the time he does.
“The problem comes when it hits the news before we even come to work and get the case,” Lee said. “Probably moreso in Stillwater than Norman, but it spreads like a wildfire even in Norman. We’re not a small town, but everybody pretty much knows what’s going on up here, and if an athlete’s arrested, it doesn’t take very long before it’s all over town.”
All over town, and everyone has an opinion.
Eight years on the job, and Mashburn said the public response on the Mixon case still amazes him. Amazes his wife, too, a Norman teacher, who is constantly stopped by people wanting to know what’s going on.
Mashburn’s wife likes to tell the curious, “Do you realize what he does on a daily basis?”
Despite the scrutiny, Mashburn said he doesn’t rethink his career in any way. He’s still running for reelection.
“I still very much love my job and the impact I can have on a community,” Mashburn said. “I’ve always said as long as I’m good with my friends and family, people I care about, I’m good. I have a great staff. Twenty-seven district attorneys. As long as we’re all good, can do our job, then I’m happy.”
But doing that job is more difficult in a college football town.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.