MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 25, 2012

Crimes against children top Oklahoma prosecutions


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — In El Reno, a man pleads guilty to five counts of first-degree-murder in the strangulation deaths of four children and their mother.

In Oklahoma City, a jury convicts a couple of three counts of child neglect for the fiery deaths of their three young children in a broken-down recreational vehicle they were locked in.

And in Shawnee, a former third-grade teacher and a former college professor are bound over for trial on multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a child under 12 and other charges in a case involving lewd photographs and video of girls aged 9-11.

During a year in which the nation mourned the violent shooting deaths of 20 children and six teachers and administrators at an elementary school in Newton, Conn., prosecutors in Oklahoma have pursued a variety of felony charges against men and women accused of committing crimes against some of the state's most vulnerable residents — its children.

Others also found themselves facing criminal charges in 2012, including the former leader of the Oklahoma Senate as well as high-profile sports figures.

The strangulation deaths of a 25-year-old woman and her four children aged 3-7 shocked the state when the victim's bodies were discovered in their El Reno apartment in January 2009. Days later, 29-year-old Joshua Durcho was charged with their deaths.

Durcho's prosecution concluded in September when he pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Durcho pleaded guilty in an agreement with prosecutors to avoid a possible death penalty if convicted by a jury of first-degree murder. Members of the victims' families agreed to the plea deal.

"The death penalty wouldn't have made me feel any better than him being locked up forever," Rhonda Rust, stepmother of Summer Rust, the woman who was killed, said shortly after Durcho pleaded guilty in a Canadian County courtroom.

Durcho pleaded guilty to killing Rust and her children, 3-year-old Evynn Garas, 4-year-old Teagin Rust and 7-year-old daughters Kirsten and Autumn Rust. Autopsies showed the victims died from "ligature strangulation," meaning they were strangled with something that left marks on their necks. Prosecutors alleged Durcho also sexually abused the 7-year-old girls.

In a similar case, a 30-year-old Blanchard man was convicted by a jury in McClain County in October of three-counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson and sentenced to death for the July 2010 deaths of a Dibble woman and her two young children, whose bodies were discovered in their burned-out mobile home.

Shaun Michael Bosse was accused in the deaths of 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, 8-year-old Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Griffin died from multiple sharp force trauma, while Christian died from multiple stab wounds. Chasity died from smoke inhalation and burns in the fire.

In May, Del City tow truck driver Christopher Dunham, 27, was convicted in Oklahoma County District Court of child neglect in the deaths of his three young children in a recreational vehicle fire. His wife, Stephanie Dunham, 27, had earlier pleaded guilty to the charges. Both were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Killed in the January 2011 fire were 4-year-old Christopher Dunham Jr., 3-year-old Crystal Dunham and 22-month-old Kailey Dunham. They died in an inoperable RV where the family lived behind a relative's house. Prosecutors said the Dunhams routinely locked the children inside the RV to prevent them from running off.

The Medical Examiner said Crystal and Christopher Dunham Jr. died of smoke inhalation, while Kailey died from a combination of burns and smoke inhalation.

Former McLoud teacher Kimberly Ann Crain, 49, of Shawnee, and retired professor of early childhood development Gary Doby, 66, of Bloomsburg, Pa., were ordered in May to stand trial on multiple counts of sexual exploitation of children under 12 and other charges. Both have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go to trial in January.

Prosecutors allege that Crain took photos of as many as 14 young girls while they were changing clothes in her classroom and at her home and that she shared the images with Doby. Pottawatomie County prosecutors allege the girls were also videotaped naked while changing clothes.

In another case involving children, an Okfuskee County judge ordered Kevin Sweat, 26, to stand trial for first-degree murder in the slaying of his 23-year-old girlfriend, Ashley Taylor. Sweat also faces two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of 13-year-old Taylor Placker and 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker, who died in June 2008 after they went for a walk near Weleetka. A preliminary hearing on those charges is set in January.

Sweat has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

And preparations were finalized in 2012 for the federal first-degree murder trial of an Army soldier accused in the starvation death of his girlfriend's 10-year-old son.

Army Pvt. Connell C. Williams, 33, is scheduled to be tried in February in Comanche County for the boy's death in 2011 at Fort Sill near Lawton. He has pleaded not guilty and federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Other high-profile cases made their way through Oklahoma's courts in 2012. In March, a federal court jury convicted former Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan of Stillwater of bribery but acquitted him of related charges. Sentencing is set in January and Morgan faces up to 10 years in prison.

In July, former Oklahoma State basketball player Darrell Williams was convicted in Payne County of sexual battery and rape by instrumentation after prosecutors accused him of sexually assaulting two women at a house party in December 2010. Jurors acquitted him on two other counts.

Williams served less than three months in the county jail before a judge suspended a one-year sentence his jury recommended.

Also in July, Jacksonville Jaguars first-round draft pick Justin Blackmon pleaded guilty in Payne County to drunken driving. Blackmon received a sentence that included no jail time for the former Oklahoma State star.