As 2011 draws to a close, stories of the "top" items of the year seem to be everywhere: top celebrity news, top famous deaths, top movies, top news stories, and more. There are even lists describing the worst of the year.
With the old year ending and the new year quickly approaching, Oklahoma criminal defense attorneys look back at some of the biggest crime news this year in the state. Unfortunately, it seems that many of the most heinous crimes took place at the end of the year.
Though most crimes never make headlines, these are a few of the stories that captured public interest and remained leading stories for much of the year. In no certain order, here are a few of the Top Oklahoma Crime Stories of 2011:
- The Jerome Ersland Murder Trial - Pharmacist Jerome Ersland was charged with homicide and convicted for the murder of Antwun "Speedy" Parker, a 16-year-old attempting to rob the Reliable Discount Pharmacy. Ersland was charged after prosecutors say that his actions went beyond self defense, claiming he shot the robber five additional times after the teenager was incapacitated. Ersland's trial was fraught with confusion and complications before he was eventually convicted this year and sentenced to life in prison. Ersland's Oklahoma City defense lawyer is appealing the conviction.
- The Maiming of Officer Chad Peery - Off-duty Oklahoma City police officer Chad Peery was at a local bar and grill when he was asked by bartenders to help with some unruly customers. As Peery was escorting the men from the premises, he was severely beaten, causing paralyzing injury. Joshua Rinken, Jimmy Smith, and Cadmio Lopez were charged with assault and battery by means of force as is likely to cause death, an offense whose punishment carries a sentence of up to life in prison. Rinken and Smith are accused of physically injuring Peery, while Lopez is accused of preventing others from intervening on the officer's behalf. Though his lawyer asserted that Lopez was innocent of any wrongdoing, Lopez pleaded guilty in November. He will be sentenced in January. Rinken and Smith are scheduled to stand trial early in 2012.
- Arrest in the Murder of "The Weleetka Girls" - The 2008 murders of 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker and 13-year-old Taylor Placker in Weleetka, Oklahoma, seemed in danger of remaining unsolved until another murder this year uncovered evidence tying the suspect to the Weleetka murders. When Kevin Sweat was arrested for the murder of his fiancee Ashley Sweat, an investigation found shell casings and a receipt for a gun that connected him to the killings in Weleetka. Sweat allegedly admitted to killing the girls, but on December 13, he remained silent at a hearing, causing the judge to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf. Because of the high-profile nature of the case, Sweat's Oklahoma defense attorneys have asked the judge to issue a gag order. A ruling on the gag order will be made January 3.
- Serenity Deal Murder and the Ongoing DHS Scandals - Five-year-old Serenity Deal was beaten to death less than a month after being placed in the custody of her father, despite earlier evidence of severe abuse. Her father, Sean Brooks of Oklahoma City, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Brooks will not be eligible for parole until he is 70 years old. He waived his right to appeal. Serenity's death is the latest in a string of child abuse deaths, beginning with the killing of 2-year-old Kelsey Smith-Briggs in 2005, that have demonstrated questionable judgment by DHS authorities and have launched a call for strong DHS reform.
- Carina Saunders Murder - The Saunders murder case first came to Oklahoma headlines when a dismembered body was found in a duffel bag in a field beside a Bethany Homeland store. The body was later identified as 19-year-old Carina Saunders, who had been missing for several days. A botched drug deal led to the arrest of Jimmy Lee Massey, who, through police interviews, was determined to have had a role in Saunders death. Allegedly, Massey kidnapped a young woman and took her to a room where she was forced to watch as Saunders was tortured. She was made to believe that the same thing would happen to her if she did not cooperate with a human trafficking operation. Police have also arrested Francisco Gomez on drug charges, and believe he has crucial information about Carina Saunders's death. Investigators believe that these arrests will lead to many more in connection with a sweeping drug trafficking and human trafficking scheme.