Facing the recent scrutiny of a state legislator, the FBI and the media over the handling of the Aja Johnson abduction-murder case, an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman called a news conference Tuesday to defend the agency’s homicide clearance rates. OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown served as the sole speaker during the half-hour event, issuing six pages of color-coded pie charts and graphics that she said outlined the agency’s "great success.” The charts — void of any specific breakdown of homicide cases — covered the past five years and showed the agency’s claim in percentages, such as its 83.7 percent homicide clearance rate in 2009 and its 96 percent homicide clearance rate in 2005. The national homicide clearance rate is 63.6 percent, according to the FBI’s most recent annual report. "As you see, our numbers are way above the state and national levels,” Brown said. "Unfortunately, not every homicide case is solvable. … We get the most difficult cases. We don’t get the smoking guns. We get the decomposing bodies in the creek bed.”
‘They control the numbers’Not everyone was impressed by OSBI’s data. "I don’t believe those numbers,” said Dick Frye, a private investigator from Norman who attended the news conference. "Those are their numbers. It’s not like you can corroborate them. They control the numbers. … Those numbers just don’t happen in reality. We had a number of people who asked to attend this press conference today for our interpretation, and I’d just say we still have a lot of questions.” Unsolved, high-profile murder cases in Weleetka and Anadarko are among those dealt with by the state agency in recent years. No arrests have been made in the June 8, 2008, shooting deaths of Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11, on a country road near Weleetka. Nor have any suspects reportedly emerged in the Aug. 23, 2009, slaying of the Rev. Carol Daniels, whose mutilated body was found behind the altar of her Anadarko church. The slaying deaths of Poteau bar owner Joe Neff on May 13, 2009, Buffalo Valley’s Frieda Dighton on June 5, 2008, and Wister’s Jody Rile Wilson in December 2007 are among other recent cases growing cold. "I’d want to see a list of OSBI’s homicide cases,” said Marie Pitchford, Neff’s daughter. "I’d have to see the list to believe it. Show me in black and white — same thing I’d ask from an accountant. "In my father’s case, they still haven’t interviewed our family. We were told if we had any important information, we would bring it to them. They just didn’t have time to deal with us. But what if I have some little piece of information that’s important and I don’t know?”
‘The tool in the toolbox’Brown defended OSBI’s investigators, noting that many of them have more than 20 years of law enforcement experience. Asked whether they are spread too thin, she replied, "We could always use more agents.” "Small, rural agencies don’t have the manpower or the tools,” Brown said. "We’ve always considered ourselves the tool in the toolbox of law enforcement.” In Guthrie, Maria Wilson remains skeptical of OSBI’s claims. Wilson is the daughter of Frieda Dighton, a 67-year-old widow who was killed in her Buffalo Valley home. The OSBI did a poor job of communicating with the slain woman’s family, Wilson said. "We’re not idiots just because we are the victim’s relatives,” Wilson said. "We knew her lifestyle, her likes and dislikes, who she knew and so forth. And yet we have been treated as though we’re a bother. "We suggested they take a look at one individual, and were told we were just complicating the investigation. Now that individual is a suspect in the case.”
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By the numbersOSBI homicide clearance rates Year Rate Deaths* 2009 83.7% 151 2008 86.0% 145 2007 86.8% 137 2006 90.7% 128 2005 96.0% 132 *Homicide/suspicious deaths Source: Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation
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