Some of 2021’s most noteworthy moments in the Norman area came out of the Cleveland County courthouse.
Of the murder convictions handed down in Cleveland County District Court, the trials of Max Townsend and Rebecca Hogue drew significant attention for very different reasons this year.
Townsend was sentenced to life in prison for three murders that a jury determined he committed. Hogue was convicted of a murder she didn’t commit, raising questions about the equity of the trial and of Oklahoma law.
Another trial invoked Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, a statute famously used in high-profile organized crime cases at a federal level but used this time within Oklahoma law.
The Transcript has compiled recaps of the most noteworthy trials of this year.
A jury on Nov. 3 found Hogue guilty of first-degree murder through permitting child abuse in a trial that has since raised questions about Oklahoma’s failure to protect law and about the trial itself.
Jurors convicted Hogue on grounds that she either knew or reasonably should have known her then-boyfriend Christopher Trent was abusing her son, Jeremiah “Ryder” Johnson, in a way that would have eventually led to her son’s death. Johnson died Jan. 1, 2020, in the care of Trent, who was found dead by suicide Jan. 4 in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Reserve.
Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney Pattye High admitted the state had no way to prove Hogue knew about the abuse. Still, the state argued some of the wounds Johnson sustained were consistent with abuse.
Judge Michael Tupper barred a domestic violence expert from testifying after the prosecution objected on grounds that Hogue wasn’t a victim of domestic violence. Hogue’s attorney, Andrew Casey, later argued this presented an unfair understanding of domestic violence, which includes verbal and psychological abuse.
Tupper also barred the defense from showing several other opinions and exhibits to the jury. One was a photo of the words “Rebecca is innocent” carved into a tree next to Trent’s body; Tupper said the exhibit was hearsay.
Another was a recording between Norman police Detective Sean Judy, Hogue’s friend and another detective, in which the detectives call the case “a s— case.” Tupper also barred Judy from sharing his opinion on the case.
Judy testified Hogue cooperated with NPD throughout the investigation and didn’t withhold information.
“Whatever [Judy] did in his investigation, whenever it ended, it ended, and he can testify to that, and if there was a decision to not pursue anything further, if that’s what it was,” Tupper said. “Now, you’re not to ask that next question: Who told you that? Or why did they tell you that?”
Hogue is set to be sentenced Feb. 11. Casey said he is looking at possible legal options, including appeals, following Hogue’s sentence.
Townsend was sentenced to life in prison for multiple charges after a jury found him guilty in connection with driving into and killing three Moore High School cross country runners in February 2020.
In June, Townsend was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a fatality and four counts of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury.
Moore High School cross country runners Yuridia Martinez, Kolby Crum and Rachel Freeman were killed in the crash, while several other students were injured.
Townsend’s defense argued he choked on a sip of Red Bull and passed out while driving his truck.
He filed an appeal with the Oklahoma State Court of Criminal Appeals in August seeking to repeal all 10 counts on these grounds.
A hearing for Townsend’s case was not listed Wednesday in Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals records.
In the trial, family members of the deceased and the jury had to watch footage of Townsend driving into the joggers.
“We’re just grateful for the jurors who came in and gave their time and attention to this case,” District Attorney Greg Mashburn said after the verdict. “It was hard evidence for them to have to listen to over the last two weeks. As a parent myself, just knowing the heaviness and what they were having to watch and see, especially for people who don’t see this all the time, I just appreciate them devoting their time and attention and delivering a true and just verdict in this case.”
Marcus Larod Jackson and Juwan Thomas Square were convicted in February of multiple racketeering and violent charges in connection with eight members of the Money Murder Gang arrested in 2019 on suspicion of several robberies, vehicle thefts, carjackings, drive-by shootings and drug offenses.
Jackson and Square were convicted of eight charges including racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, discharging a weapon into a dwelling, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm after former felony conviction and shooting with intent to kill; Square was additionally convicted of using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon.
They have each been sentenced in May to 480 years in prison, according to the Oklahoma State Courts Network.
Jackson and Square were at least partially prosecuted under Oklahoma’s version of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law.
Laws of this kind implicate defendants knowingly participating in or adjacent to organizations that engage in dishonest or fraudulent business dealings.
Jackson’s attorney Michael Amend disagreed with the racketeering verdict, saying he didn’t feel the gang’s activities matched the legal definition of the charge.
Charges not filed
While Cleveland County saw several high-profile court trials this year, the district attorney’s office’s decision to not press charges in connection with a false police report also engaged the public.
Mashburn declined to file charges against a man who claimed Steven Bomar, 26, of Norman, had pulled a gun on him and his girlfriend at a stoplight. The report resulted in NPD officers drawing guns on Bomar at a gas station before they searched his car, where they found no firearms.
Despite NPD submitting a report to the District Attorney’s office for filing a false police report, the DA declined to file charges because they felt they didn’t have enough evidence to prove their case in court, Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney Travis White said.
Norman Ward 1 Councilor Brandi Studley, Bomar’s council member, said Mashburn’s decision to not file charges was a shame but unsurprising.
Bomar, who is Black, said he believes the situation would have been handled more calmly if the person of interest was white.
NPD spokesperson Sarah Jensen said the officers’ response to Bomar was standard protocol for the department.