STIGLER — A man authorities say confessed to a 25-year-old unsolved slaying in Haskell County has been returned to Oklahoma from Montana.
Clifford Eagle, 55, had been jailed in Billings, Mont., since April, when police there say he walked into their station and confessed to the long-unsolved shooting of former Haskell County Commissioner Leo Reasnor.
Reasnor, 49, was shot dead in June 1987 near some property he owned in Lequire.
Danita Williams, assistant district attorney in Haskell County, said Eagle arrived in Stigler on Friday and made an appearance in court Tuesday. The longtime Oklahoma resident is charged with murder.
Williams said the judge entered a not guilty plea for Eagle and that the defendant is due back in court Monday for a bond hearing.
Court records show Eagle walked into the Billings police station in April and told detectives he wanted to get “something off his chest.”
Eagle said he and Vince Allen Johnson, who was executed in 2001 for a different killing, shot Reasnor after the county commissioner accused Johnson of stealing some of his property, records show.
Eagle said he fired his handgun — a Ruger .357 loaded with .38-caliber bullets — at Reasnor after Johnson indicated the victim was “going for a gun.” He said he thought Johnson “may have fired” his weapon — a Smith and Wesson .38-caliber — as well, court records show.
Reasnor was found slumped over in his truck by his son and another man. The state medical examiner said at the time that a .38-caliber slug was pulled from the former commissioner's body.
Williams said it's still not clear if her office will seek the death penalty for Eagle.
“We have not filed a bill of particulars … but we can still do so in this case,” Williams said.
Haskell County authorities had to seek the assistance of Gov. Mary Fallin's office to bring Eagle back to Oklahoma, despite his confession.
Man claims innocence
Since he was arrested by Billings police detectives in April, Eagle has written a letter to The Oklahoman, claiming his confession was “coerced.”
The letter, dated June 12, states that Eagle had contacted Billings police in an attempt to get help, not confess to murder.
“The confession was coerced by the Billings Police Department after I went to them for help,” Eagle wrote in the letter. “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 wrote in the letter that he learned about the Reasnor case after a former Haskell County sheriff's deputy visited him in prison and tried to get him to confess to the slaying.
He 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.
“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,” he wrote. “He more or less wanted me to say that me and Vince Johnson killed Leo Reasnor. He gave me all the information.”
Terrell admitted that he had visited Eagle in prison some time after 1987, but denies that he fed the convict information or tried to coax him into confessing to Reasnor's murder.
“I didn't try to get Clifford to admit to anything,” Terrell said. “I was only sent there to question him.”
Going back to prison
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 that 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 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.”
In the meantime, prosecutors say their case against Eagle will move forward.
Billings police Lt. Kevin Iffland said he spoke with the detectives who interviewed Eagle about the Reasnor case in April.
“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.”
Williams said she couldn't comment on the recording because of the ongoing investigation.