The Edmond Sun

December 29, 2012

Murder trial among 2012's top police, fire stories

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — It was another interesting year in Edmond, our fair city of about 83,000. The Sun reported on a wide variety of cases related to cops and courts and to the Edmond Fire Department.

Police Department officers served the community as they engaged in high-speed pursuits, investigated incidents at public schools, drug activity across the city, home invasions, robberies, sexual offenses, burglaries, the discovery of explosive-making materials at an Edmond apartment complex, child pornography allegations, embezzlement allegations, assaults, homicides and alleged arsons.

The Edmond Fire Department trained personnel in a variety of ways, witnessed the retirement of its longtime fire chief and the hiring of his replacement, advertised its desire to hire more firefighters, responded to incidents involving structure fires, grass fires, fuel spills and alleged arson, delivered some holiday cheer to young cancer patients and offered residents fire safety advice.

Oklahoma County and federal courts were busy throughout the year hearing a wide variety of cases with Edmond connections.

Here’s our list of the top crime, court and Fire Department stories for 2012.

No. 10: Judge gives Edmond man 139-year sentence

In July, Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott sentenced a 22-year-old Edmond man to 139 years in prison for the 2011 rape of a 28-year-old woman.

Among those who heard the verdict was the victim, who now knows the offender will not walk the streets again, said Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Jeremy Michael Scrivener, who maintains his innocence, was appealing the decision.

Prater said thanks to the good work of Edmond Police Detective Mark Oak and the victim’s courageous cooperation throughout the process, justice was served. Suzanne Lavenue was the assistant district attorney in the case.

No. 9: Fight continues to free convicted Edmond soldier

In July, The Edmond Sun reported that the mother of an Edmond soldier convicted of killing an unarmed Iraqi may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a setback from a military appeals court.

In a 3-2 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the military’s highest court, upheld 1st Lt. Michael Behenna’s 2009 conviction for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone.

Behenna is serving a 15-year sentence in the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., military prison for the 2008 shooting.

No. 8: Police report assault of Edmond teacher

In November, an Edmond elementary student was cited for allegedly assaulting a teacher during a school day, according to a police incident report.

At about 9:10 a.m. on the day in question, Edmond Police Officer Jeff Smith was dispatched to Orvis Risner Elementary, 2801 S. Rankin St., in reference to an assault on a teacher, according to the incident report filed by Smith.

Smith met with a teacher in the principal’s office who said that at about 8:45 a.m. she was assisting with an assembly in the gym, the officer stated. She said she told an unidentified male student to slide down on the bench to make room for other students, the report stated.

The teacher said the student ignored her so she put her hands on his shoulders to make him slide down, the report stated. She said the student stood up and kicked her in the back of the leg, according to the report.

No. 7: Federal cases with Edmond links surge

During the past year numerous cases with links to Edmond were heard in federal court.

In February, a federal judge sentenced an Edmond man to two years in prison and ordered him to pay more than $600,000 in restitution for wire fraud and money laundering in a scheme to defraud his former employer.

In September, a federal judge sentenced an Edmond businessman to 20 months in prison and ordered him to pay $476,000-plus in restitution for failure to file and pay employment tax.

In December, a federal judge sentenced two Edmond men who pleaded guilty to charges related to a credit card “bust out” scheme and trafficking in contraband tobacco.

No. 6: Grand jury urges continuation of Baby Jake investigation

Many members of the community have been following the investigation into the death of the 9-month-old Jacob Ryan Hedger. He died on March 9, 2011. No one has been arrested in the case. Jake’s parents and the babysitter have denied that they harmed the infant.

Jake’s death was ruled a homicide and the cause of death was blunt force head trauma, according to the medical examiner’s office autopsy report.

Police said the babysitter discovered the infant not breathing 30 minutes after putting him down for a nap. The infant was transported to Integris Baptist Medical Center with a heartbeat, and then later transported to OU Children’s Hospital where he died.

“This is a tragic and heartbreaking case and it is recommended that law enforcement and future grand juries continue to investigate this case,” grand jurors stated in their interim report.

The 14th Oklahoma Multicounty Grand Jury will convene Jan. 22.

No. 5: EPD investigates high-dollar embezzlement allegations

In July, The Sun reported that detectives were investigating the alleged misuse of $109,454 from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. District Attorney David Prater filed eight felony counts for unauthorized use of a computer network to obtain money and other items by fraudulent representation against a former church employee, who declined comment. On Dec. 17, an arrest warrant was issued. The defendant has not entered a plea yet, according to online court records. In a statement, St. John’s said during a recent parish assessment project a possible misappropriation of church funds by a church employee was discovered.

In October, The Sun reported that the Edmond Police Department is investigating the embezzlement of $50,000 from the Edmond Masonic Lodge.

“The individual responsible has admitted taking the funds, and we are proceeding to see that he is held accountable for his actions by turning the matter over to the Edmond Police and pursuing all means available to recover as much of our money as possible,” lodge leader Mike Dixon stated at the time.

Police were examining the documentation provided and were actively investigating.

No. 4: City fires high-ranking fire official

In October, after 359 days of administrative leave and more than $100,000 made in salary payments to a city fire official, Edmond’s city manager reported the city had fired the employee.

On Oct. 7, 2011, Tim Wheeler, then-fire prevention chief and public information officer for the Edmond Fire Department, was placed on paid administrative leave after a city worker alleged that Wheeler pointed a small-caliber pistol at another employee.

Through his attorney Wheeler maintains there was no criminal wrongdoing. In October, The Sun reported that Wheeler had filed a formal grievance with the city and that he wanted his job back. The local grievance committee was reviewing the facts.

City Manager Larry Stevens said Wheeler’s employment with the city was terminated effective Oct. 1 for just cause. Police spokeswoman Jenny Monroe said the city’s action has no implications for the police investigation, which remains open.

No. 3: City fire chief retires

In March, The Sun reported that longtime Edmond Fire Chief Gil Harryman had announced his retirement.

After 35 years of serving the community, he retired June 29. Harryman previously held with the Edmond Fire Department the positions of firefighter, driver, lieutenant, captain, interim chief training officer, battalion chief and assistant fire chief. He has also been involved in many civic organizations through the years.

On behalf of the City of Edmond, City Manager Larry Stevens congratulated Harryman on his career in public service.

Mayor Charles Lamb, who has been an elected official in Edmond since 1993, said the fire chief has had a significant impact on the growth of a department that has received state and national recognition.

In September, the city announced the hiring of new Fire Chief Jake Rhoades, whose resume includes 20 years of fire service experience. Stevens said he had three good finalists and he chose Rhoades because he is the best fit for the future of the Edmond Fire Department, the city and the community.

No. 2: Community begins suicide prevention efforts

During the year the community was grieved and took steps to address a local and national tragedy — suicide.

In January, The Sun reported that family members and friends were grieving the loss of three teens, their lives tragically cut short by suicide, and that the community was responding in a variety of ways.

In September, The Sun reported that there had been a total of 13 reported suicides in Edmond compared to four in 2011 and seven in 2010 for the city of more than 80,000 residents. The male and female victims ranged from age 14 to age 60-plus, according to the Edmond Police Department. Behind every number is a human life — a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, a relative, a friend, a co-worker.

During the year, stakeholders sponsored various forums and suicide prevention workshops. They included an event sponsored by Edmond Public Schools and another by the University of Central Oklahoma and Edmond’s First United Methodist Church for members of the faith-based community.

In October, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Oklahoma chapter sponsored a candlelight vigil in Hafer Park.

No. 1: Judge sentences last ‘Bicycle Bob’ defendant

It was a case that began in Oct. 2009, when a passer-by discovered Dwite Morgan’s battered body at his campsite located in an alley just west of downtown Edmond.

Earlier this month, The Sun attended the sentencing hearing for the last defendant. Oklahoma County District Judge Jerry Bass sentenced Connor Mason to life with the possibility of parole, saying the 22-year-old will serve about 66 years in prison.

On Oct. 18, 2009, Travis Jim reported the discovery of the blood-drenched body of Morgan, 54. Police officers, Breakfast on Boulevard volunteers and staff of a downtown eatery were among the many members of the community who cared for the man affectionately called Bicycle Bob because he was often seen riding around the city on a bicycle.

Twists and turns in the case included Jim’s confession and recantation, information from Shaun Parker and Heather Holden, who testified about how Mason wanted to give Holden the victim’s severed finger as a trophy; the recovery of the murder weapon, a tipless knife; the exhumation and re-examination of the victim’s body, which produced knife fragments in the victim’s skull and hand; and Mason’s public admission of guilt.

Two other defendants reached plea agreements with prosecutors.

MARK SCHLACHTENHAUFEN covers police, fire and the courts for The Edmond Sun.