, Muskogee, OK

February 20, 2013

Court stops conspiracy count in lawmaker bribery case

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday rejected Oklahoma County prosecutors' attempt to add a conspiracy count against two former state lawmakers already charged with bribery.

The five-member court voted 4-1 to uphold Special Judge Stephen Alcorn's November 2011 decision disallowing conspiracy charges against former Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, and former Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City. Following a preliminary hearing, Alcorn rejected the conspiracy charge while ruling there was sufficient evidence to try them on felony bribery charges.

Prosecutors appealed to file the conspiracy charges. Although Alcorn's ruling was affirmed, District Attorney David Prater said the appellate court's decision will allow his office to move forward in the bribery case.

"We didn't charge initially with conspiracy anyway," Prater said.

Prosecutors allege that Terrill and Leftwich schemed to set Leftwich up in a state job so a Republican colleague of Terrill's could run for her open seat in 2010. Prosecutors claim Terrill offered Leftwich an $80,000-a-year job at the state medical examiner's office in exchange for Leftwich's promise not to seek re-election.

Terrill was chairman of a House budget subcommittee responsible for the budget of the medical examiner's office at the time. Officials at the agency testified during the preliminary hearing that they felt pressured to hire Leftwich although they felt she was not qualified for the job.

Prosecutors alleged the two lawmakers also conspired together in the bribery scheme. But defense attorneys invoked a legal guideline known as Wharton's rule to argue against the conspiracy charge. The guideline prohibits the prosecution of just two people for conspiracy to commit an offense if it takes at least two people to commit the offense.

In its ruling, the court said it's possible that Terrill and a third person could have conspired to offer Leftwich a thing of value in return for her giving up her state Senate seat.

"And it is not beyond the power of artful hypothesis to conclude that Leftwich could have conspired with a third person to accept his offer," the decision says. "It stretches the art of hypothesis to near the breaking point, however, to conclude that Terrill and Leftwich conspired that he should offer her a thing of value."

Defense attorneys have said Terrill did not have the authority to promise a job to Leftwich. They also argued that Leftwich was not technically a candidate for re-election because she never filed a notice of candidacy with the state Election Board. Terrill left the Legislature last year.

But prosecutors presented evidence that Leftwich had raised and spent campaign funds in the months and years prior to the 2010 election and announced her withdrawal from the race only after a bill creating the job at the medical examiner's office was passed at the end of the 2010 Oklahoma Legislature.

Terrill and Leftwich deny the bribery allegations. If convicted, they could each be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.