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Were Oklahoma homicide cases bungled?

Former Special Investigator Kyle Eastridge says OSBI mishandled at least four homicide cases.
BY KEN RAYMOND Published: July 25, 2010

On March 29, 2009, DNA from semen found in Pless' body was matched to a Missouri prisoner, Eastridge said.

"After the ... match, no activity was recorded on the case by the assigned agent until ... the assigned agent relinquished the case to me," Eastridge said. "And after approximately a month of follow-up, an arrest warrant was obtained and a murder charge was filed."

Dennis Ray Wright, 50, was charged with murder on May 19.

Eastridge criticized the case agent to The Oklahoman as "lazy" and "worthless."

"That's completely false," Brown said. "Completely. The only reason I can think he would say that is because he didn't see the complete file. He's speaking out of ignorance. ... There was no delay in running down leads."

She said "a great deal of work was done that he obviously doesn't know about."

Eastridge said he is familiar with everything that was done.

"I read the entire case file and in doing so know that the now-charged suspect was named as a potential suspect when the case was first being investigated by a deputy from Lincoln County," he said in an e-mail. "There is a report in the file to confirm this. After that same person was linked to the crime with DNA, nothing was done for nearly a year."

• Ola L. Kirk, 77.

Kirk was killed in her Geary home in 1983.

"We were told he crawled through a window in her kitchen, which was in the back of the house," said Lauren Layman, Kirk's great-granddaughter. "I know from a police report that he beat her and raped her after she had died. ... It was just brutal. Her arm where she put it up to protect her face was broken in three places."

A named suspect was linked by DNA to the killing in 1983, Eastridge said, but the Blaine County district attorney did not think the evidence was strong enough to warrant prosecution.

The suspect was not arrested. Later, he was convicted of rape and burglary in other cases.

"Had he gone to jail for my great-grandmother, if he was the one who did it, he wouldn't have been around to rape anyone else," said Layman, 37, of Oklahoma City. "Those people's lives would've been changed."

Eastridge said OSBI should've been more aggressive in pursuing charges.

"First, making an arrest can lead to unknown information or evidence that further strengthens a case," he said. "Second, it places a prosecutor in a position that a decision has to be made. More often than not, proceeding with a criminal case is the proper course."

Eastridge arrested the suspect in Kirk's slaying after discovering he had not registered as a sex offender. Lester Black Bear, 53, began serving a 3-year prison term this month.

Brown said it would be counterproductive for OSBI to strong-arm prosecutors.

"We are working for the district attorneys," she said. "They're the ones who request us to do the investigations. ... We're not a help to the public if we're fighting DA's."

Arresting suspects whom prosecutors don't intend to charge is morally wrong, said Jimmy Bunn Jr., OSBI's chief legal counsel.

"You're effectively stamping them with a guilty designation without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves," Bunn said.


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