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College football: What it's like to be a district attorney in a college town

Greg Mashburn’s job is a little different from most prosecutors. He’s the DA in a college football town. When a football or basketball player gets in trouble, his job is thrust quickly under the microscope — like with the Joe Mixon affair.
by Berry Tramel Published: August 23, 2014

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.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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