©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.”
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.”
Terrell, who is no longer in law enforcement, said he visited Eagle in prison shortly after the Reasnor slaying. But he denies the suspect's other accusations.
“I didn't try to get Clifford to admit to anything,” Terrell said. “I was only sent there to question him.”
Terrell said he was sent to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to question Eagle about an incident that happened in the prison. The former deputy said another inmate at the facility had contacted the Haskell County sheriff's office after witnessing an altercation between Eagle and a fellow prisoner.
“After the fight or whatever, the inmate said that Clifford had yelled at the other guy, ‘I'll take care of you like I did that county commissioner,'” Terrell said. “But when I asked him about the statement ... he said he admitted to saying it, but he was only saying that so the guy would leave him alone.
“He said he was just making it, you know, maybe just to scare the guy.”
Terrell, who had previous dealings with Eagle during his time as a deputy, said he wasn't totally shocked to hear about the confession. He said in the 1980s, after Eagle was sentenced for stealing from “the elderly,” he transported the convict and other inmates to a prison in Lexington.
“During the ride, I asked him why he didn't fight the charges or try and get them reduced,” Terrell said. “He just told me, ‘Look, I want to go back. I get all my dental for free, my health care for free. I got a place to stay and three meals a day.' He was happy about going back.”
Terrell said he believes Eagle's past behaviors — lying about the Reasnor murder case and showing signs of institutionalization more than two decades ago — make him wonder if he lied to detectives in Montana about killing Reasnor.
“When I first heard about him confessing, I thought, ‘What's he doing ... confessing because he doesn't have no place to go?'” he said. “It had already been 25 years ... I'm just not sure he would've waited that long to get something like that out.”
And Terrell said he isn't the only one who's been given pause by the alleged murder confession. He said a source “close to the Reasnor family” has said they feel uneasy about the confession.
“They don't really think he did it,” Terrell said. “They weren't convinced. They've had their hopes up several times, but the leads just played themselves out or there just wasn't enough evidence. And this comes from a lady who's real close to the family.”
In the meantime, Eagle is fighting extradition to Oklahoma, which has one of the busiest death rows in the nation.
Haskell County District Attorney Farley Ward has said that it's too early to decide whether Eagle would face the death penalty if he goes to trial on the murder charge.
Gov. Mary Fallin's office confirmed June 12 that extradition papers — the so-called “governor's warrant” — have been sent to the state of Montana, although it's not clear when Eagle will be returned Oklahoma.
Eagle wrapped up his letter to The Oklahoman by once again asserting his innocence in the Reasnor killing.
“The only person that was involved in Leo Reasnor's death is dead himself (since 2001),” he wrote, referring to executed inmate Vince Allen Johnson. “There is no story, no confession.”