Editor's note: This story is Part Two of a three-part series examining the operations of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. It is a joint project of The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World.
Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman
Such is the level of distrust the Devineys have developed for the state agency charged with finding justice for their daughter, Sheila Ann Deviney. The Devineys say the OSBI has "demonized" and treated them "hostile" because of their relentless quest to see the case solved.
Now they are disheartened and disillusioned.
"The agent in charge (Joe Lahue) finally told us to 'Go home and forget about it. Perhaps the person who takes my place when I retire will solve it,'" David Deviney told The Oklahoman last week. "We spend billions of dollars overseas to fight terrorism, but let it happen in your front yard and the government will turn their back on you."
OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown, who declined to make agents available for comment, disputed the Devineys' claims, calling Lahue a "most gentle man" who has "never been anything but polite to the family."
Yet Deviney's story is one shared by several victims' families, private investigators, defense attorneys and public officials statewide regarding the OSBI.
Together, they portray an agency that has generally abandoned old-fashioned, street-level police work; trampled the feelings of victims' families; displayed arrogance in the face of evidence; and engaged in territorial disputes with other law enforcement agencies.
"We try to find the things they have done poorly, and we always have," said Joe Robertson, the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System's executive director. "Frankly, we've done so with great success. Frequently, we see OSBI zero in on a suspect and never move off of that person, regardless of the evidence.
"So I'm not saying they're a crack agency. But I will say, in court, they have always been very professional and open with their discovery. In that respect, we have a very good relationship."
Jim and Stacey Rilee haven't rested since a paraglider spotted their daughter's decomposing body May 8, 2009, while flying over Poteau Mountain. Authorities later found Jody Rilee Wilson's abandoned vehicle 103 miles away outside a Henryetta restaurant.
Initially, the Rilees were optimistic.
"After meeting with OSBI, we walked away feeling like they were earnestly investigating our daughter's death as much as they are capable," Stacey Rilee said from her Succasunna, N.J., home.
Confidence vanished after a conversation between Jim Rilee and OSBI agent Donnie Long turned to the subject of a key suspect and text messages.
"I called him (Long)," Rilee said. "I said, 'Have you gotten the text messages from the cell phone?' He said, 'I have the phone records.' I said, 'No, the specific text messages.'
"He said, 'We can't get those messages, but I'll check.'
A few days passed, and Long called Rilee back and said he'd learned agents actually could get the text messages. By then, it was too late. The cell phone provider had purged the texts from its system.
"I was livid," Rilee said. "He didn't know. That's not his fault. I would think that's a training issue. Maybe that was the only thing he wasn't trained. I don't know. But we missed an opportunity to possibly gain some key evidence."
Brown said Rilee's account is untrue, saying, "Our investigators are well-trained. Of course, he knew how to retrieve those records."
The case remains unsolved.
A true investigation?
Defense attorney Steve Huddleston still fumes whenever he thinks of his client — former Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess — serving 79 years in prison for sex crimes against female inmates. Huddleston questions whether OSBI investigator Joe Ferrero genuinely sought the truth.
At least three female inmates claimed Burgess forced them to perform sexual acts in his office and truck. Yet Ferrero told jurors he decided against any DNA tests because there would be a low probability of retrieving DNA evidence, and that it would be "too extensive" and "too intrusive" to the sheriff's office and defendant's property.
So no tests were ordered. Nor was Burgess ever questioned by OSBI agents.
"OSBI never interviewed Mike Burgess to get his side of the story — not once," Huddleston said. "Now wouldn't you think they would want to know what he had to say about these allegations before filing them?
"OSBI didn't do any type of DNA testing, either. They didn't pull up the rug in his office, test the seat of his chair, or even go through his pickup. Nothing. I didn't think they did any kind of real investigation."
There also is the issue of the sheriff's infamous flashlight — an instrument Burgess purportedly used to rape one of his victims. Investigators never produced the flashlight for evidence.
Present Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples found the flashlight in March in a box of other items taken from Burgess after his 2008 resignation. Peoples said OSBI never requested the flashlight as evidence.
"I find it astonishing," Peoples said. "What better piece of evidence to hold up to a jury to say, 'Look at it here.' I have no idea why it has sat here for so long, but it has."
Waves of criticism
In March, 7-year-old Aja Johnson's decomposing body was found in the woods east of downtown Norman. Nearby, in a car owned by her mother, sat the rotting corpse of her abductor and stepfather, Lester William Hobbs.
The two had been missing since Jan. 23.
Aja was found in an area where Hobbs had lived for 18 years, and down the road from where his parents are buried at the Denver Cemetery. Critics quickly surfaced, asking why OSBI didn't conduct a more thorough search of what should have been a hot spot for investigators.
"Who knew what when?" snapped Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, in March. "I want a blow-by-blow account of what OSBI did."
Morrissette declined further comment last week.
Shortly thereafter, FBI spokesman Gary Johnson revealed that the FBI had offered OSBI the services of its Child Abduction Response Team, a group of agents who specialize in such cases.
OSBI declined the offer.
"I don't know why, but we were disappointed and frustrated over our offer for assistance was declined," Johnson said.
Johnson did not respond to requests for further comment on the matter last week.
OSBI Agent-in-Charge Richard Goss defended his agency's decision, saying in March they were already following an "FBI checklist" on abduction.