Panic Button: The April Wilkens Case

This is a podcast about a true crime story unlike any other--only there’s no whodunnit, and there’s no whydunnit. We know exactly who killed Terry Carlton on April 28th, 1998. And we know exactly why. Because she told us--April Wilkens told anyone who would listen that she defended her own life that night. And yet--even in the face of overwhelming evidence and testimony--the jury sentenced her to life in prison. Attorneys Leslie Briggs and Colleen McCarty deep dive into the facts of the case, and the phenomenon of criminalized survivors in Oklahoma prisons. This season on Panic Button: Can money buy you a murder conviction? Could April have been an intelligent woman who also made extremely complicated choices that put her life in danger? Could April have been a traumatized abuse victim and mental patient and still have been smart enough to plot a premeditated murder?

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Episodes

7 days ago

The State begins to present its evidence in April Wilkens' first-degree murder trial. In the Spring of 1999, April was absolutely convinced that the jury would acquit her after hearing her evidence of abuse, especially after hearing the testimony from the SANE nurse that proved she had been raped the night of the shooting. She was sure they would come to understand Terry's chronic intimate terrorism and understand she'd had no choice but to pull the trigger.  Instead, the State paints her as a psycho ex-girlfriend fiending for drugs. Every trope imaginable is called up to prejudice the jury against her: gold digger, slut, junkie, and whore. The two most helpful witnesses the prosecution puts on are the medical examiner, Dr. Distefano, and the SANE Nurse, Kathy Bell. _________________________ To view the diagrams used by the State and Dr. Distefano as well as pictures of the clothing April was wearing that got bagged in the rape kit visit okappleseed.org/episode-6-show-notes Detailed Timeline of Events in April's Case compiled by April herself with help from her niece, Amanda: https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/2022/02/12/timeline-of-events/ Sign the Change.org petition to support April's release: https://www.change.org/p/oklahoma-pardon-parole-board-commute-the-life-sentence-of-abuse-survivor-april-wilkens?signed=true Donate to keep our work going!: neappleseed.org/okappleseed Learn more about Oklahoma Appleseed: okappleseed.org If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. You can also search for a local domestic violence shelter at www.domesticshelters.org/. If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Have questions about consent? Take a look at this guide from RAINN at www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent. Learn more about criminalized survival at www.survivedandpunishedny.org/. Learn more about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at www.nysda.org/page/DVSJA. Follow the #freeaprilwilkens campaign on Instagram at @freeaprilwilkens, on Twitter and on their webpage at https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/. Colleen McCarty is one of the hosts, executive director of Oklahoma Appleseed, and producer.  Leslie Briggs is the other host who is a civil rights and immigration attorney, and producer. Rusty Rowe provides substantial audio production support. We're recorded at Bison and Bean Studios in Tulsa. Additional support from Amanda Ross and Ashlyn Faulkner. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Gyom.  Panic Button is created in partnership with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs. Follow OK Appleseed on Twitter and Instagram at @ok_appleseed. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our Panic Button podcast community on Bookclubz at bit.ly/3NRHO8C.

Tuesday Jul 26, 2022

When April goes to trial for first-degree murder in April of 1999, over half of the potential jurors in the initial pool had suffered from--or perpetrated--domestic violence. Leslie and Colleen wade through the pool to get a feel for what the community was like that would be judging April's guilt.  ____________________________________ Resources: To learn more about voir dire, jury selection, & potential policy solutions, check out this article: https://www.ncsc-jurystudies.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/6839/buildgbettervoirdire_000.pdf Detailed Timeline of Events in April's Case compiled by April herself with help from her niece, Amanda: https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/2022/02/12/timeline-of-events/ Sign the Change.org petition to support April's release: https://www.change.org/p/oklahoma-pardon-parole-board-commute-the-life-sentence-of-abuse-survivor-april-wilkens?signed=true Donate to keep our work going!: neappleseed.org/okappleseed Learn more about Oklahoma Appleseed: okappleseed.org If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. You can also search for a local domestic violence shelter at www.domesticshelters.org/. If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Have questions about consent? Take a look at this guide from RAINN at www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent. Learn more about criminalized survival at www.survivedandpunishedny.org/. Learn more about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at www.nysda.org/page/DVSJA. Follow the #freeaprilwilkens campaign on Instagram at @freeaprilwilkens, on Twitter and on their webpage at https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/. Colleen McCarty is one of the hosts, executive director of Oklahoma Appleseed, and producer.  Leslie Briggs is the other host who is a civil rights and immigration attorney, and producer. Rusty Rowe provides substantial audio production support. We're recorded at Bison and Bean Studios in Tulsa. Additional support from Amanda Ross and Ashlyn Faulkner. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Gyom.  Panic Button is created in partnership with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs. Follow OK Appleseed on Twitter and Instagram at @ok_appleseed. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our Panic Button podcast community on Bookclubz at bit.ly/3NRHO8C.

Tuesday Jul 19, 2022

In this episode, we hear about the confession, the arrest, the SANE exam, and the year April spent in jail in pre-trial detention. Even though she was presumed innocent, she was required to stay in jail on no bond due to the seriousness of her charge.  We also hear about the politics playing out at the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office in the years leading up to the shooting, and what might've made DA Tim Harris hungry for a conviction in his first big murder case as DA. ___________________ Resources: For crime scene photos entered at trial, supplemental info, and to see Lynda Driskell's letter to the parole board, visit okappleseed.org/episode-4-show-notes  To learn more about voir dire, jury selection, & potential policy solutions, check out this article: https://www.ncsc-jurystudies.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/6839/buildgbettervoirdire_000.pdf Detailed Timeline of Events in April's Case compiled by April herself with help from her niece, Amanda: https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/2022/02/12/timeline-of-events/ Sign the Change.org petition to support April's release: https://www.change.org/p/oklahoma-pardon-parole-board-commute-the-life-sentence-of-abuse-survivor-april-wilkens?signed=true Donate to keep our work going!: neappleseed.org/okappleseed Learn more about Oklahoma Appleseed: okappleseed.org If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. You can also search for a local domestic violence shelter at www.domesticshelters.org/. If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Have questions about consent? Take a look at this guide from RAINN at www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent. Learn more about criminalized survival at www.survivedandpunishedny.org/. Learn more about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at www.nysda.org/page/DVSJA. Follow the #freeaprilwilkens campaign on Instagram at @freeaprilwilkens, on Twitter and on their webpage at https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/. Colleen McCarty is one of the hosts, executive director of Oklahoma Appleseed, and producer.  Leslie Briggs is the other host who is a civil rights and immigration attorney, and producer. Rusty Rowe provides additional production support. We're recorded at Bison and Bean Studios in Tulsa. Additional support from Amanda Ross and Ashlyn Faulkner. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Gyom.  Panic Button is created in partnership with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs. Follow OK Appleseed on Twitter and Instagram at @ok_appleseed. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our Panic Button podcast community on Bookclubz at bit.ly/3NRHO8C.   TRANSCRIPT:   Leslie Briggs 00:00 If you're just tuning in, I suggest you go back and start listening from chapter one. Before we start a content warning: this episode contains accounts of domestic and sexual violence. This episode is going to be a little different than our previous three. This episode is being released in two parts. In part one of this episode, we'll detail April's arrest and her time spent in County lockup, and preview what the jury selection process is like, some global issues we see with the process, and summarize some of the more poignant and glaring juror stories that illuminate those global issues. In the second part, we take a break from the rigorous storytelling to offer our insights, analysis and commentary into the jury selection process. We hope to show you two things with this two part episode: one, how lawyers for both sides in this case attempt to use the jury selection to begin to manipulate the jurors and two, how prevalent domestic violence was in Tulsa in 1999... This is Panic Button: chapter four, Setting the Tone. I'm Leslie Briggs.   Colleen McCarty 01:52 And I'm Colleen McCarty.   Leslie Briggs 01:54 We need to get into everything that happened from the arrest to the trial. But if you've ever spent time in a jail or a prison, you'll know not much happens in there. April spent a year in pretrial detention after the shooting and before the trial. She was presumed innocent, but most murder defendants are held on no bond, meaning they would not have the chance to be out in the community before the trial. We told you in episode one that four officers responded to the shooting call at 38th and Lewis and Tulsa on the morning of April 28, 1998. Those four officers were Laura Fadem, H. G. Lawson, Officer Forester, and Officer Gann. April told them immediately what had happened. Officer Lawson testifies the April looked quote, "Like she had been up all night, just kind of bedraggled looking." Officer Lawson went to the basement to check on the victim of the shooting and to make sure there was no one else in the house who could be armed. Officer Gann went with him. They see a blue Navajo-style blanket covering a body with blood coming out from where the head would be. And the blood pools all the way to the baseboards of the wall. On a cluttered table near the door, there's a gun, a walkie talkie and lots of drug paraphernalia. And there are handcuffs covered and a dried white liquid. Officer Lawson checks the body for a pulse. He states it's ice cold to the touch and that there are no signs of life. He notices the body is riddled with holes. There are shell casings all around him. The police department calls in their homicide detectives to process the scene and they send April back to the station with Officer Fadem. April had been telling officer Faden the whole story, both before and after being read her Miranda rights. When they got in the car, this is what officer Fadem says happened. Quote, "Yes. When we got in the patrol car, we started towards the Detective Division. I remember she asked me if I would turn on a certain radio channel on the radio. And I said sure, you know, she - it was - it was rock and roll channel. None of the buttons on my radio were rock n roll. So I had to tune it in. I remember it was like 10 Maybe 104. Something like that. So I tuned the Rock n Roll channel for her. And she wanted it turned up a little louder. So I turned it up a little louder. And that seemed to kind of - she enjoyed that. I guess it kind of relaxed her a little bit." When they arrived at the station. April goes with Officer Fadem into an interview room. She told the officer at the house that she had been raped and that Terry had beaten her and tried to break her neck. Even still, Officer Fadem won't say on the stand that April had been raped or injured. Officer Fadem does say there's a red mark developing on April's face as the day goes on. On cross examination, officer Fadem continues to say that April was quote excitable. Like she had something to tell everyone and she just couldn't hold it in. Officer Fadem tells April's attorney that she finds us excitable demeanor to be inappropriate to the situation. I just want to interject also here that Officer Fadem's testimony is almost comical in the fact that she uses the word "consent" wherever possible and avoids the word "rape" wherever possible. She'll say things in her testimony like "she consented to going upstairs," implying to the jury, I think, that April was consenting to some of the things that happened to her that night. I think it's just a curious way that she chose to testify. Once they get back to the station, in the interview room, the officers set up audio and video recording equipment. We hope to be able to have some of these pieces of evidence for you but as of yet we still don't have access to it. Detective Makinson who is at Terry's house processing the scene leaves and heads towards the station once he learns that Officer Fadem is interviewing a murder suspect, potentially on her own. Even though April has told all the officers at this point that Terry had forcible sex with her and tried to break her neck before the shooting, they're insisting that she go to the station and make a statement before she can be treated for her injuries or be given a SANE exam. You'll remember saying as the Sexual Assault Nurse exam. Detective Makinson takes a taped statement with April. April again tells the story as it happened. She never wavers. Finally, after concluding this interview, April is allowed to go to Hillcrest and receive a SANE exam for her internal and her external injuries. They collect her clothes, hair samples, scrape underneath her nails and gather potential DNA. Sidenote, that at trial when Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Knight and Gail asks, Detective Makinson, if he tested the rape kit, he responds, "In fact, I thought that Kathy Bell, the SANE nurse was going to do that. And you pointed out to me that it needed to be done. And I think you did it. So I didn't do that, no." Yes, that is the ADA asking the homicide detective at trial if you tested the defendant's rape kit, and the homicide detective is responding in front of the jury that no, he didn't test it because he thought she had done it. The question of who tests the rape kit is never answered. That evening after the SANE exam April goes to the station and gets booked into the jail. By this time it's 10pm. The shooting happened around 8am. April's case begins to wind its way through the analysis of our justice system. She is appointed a public defender a young lawyer named Daman Cantrell. Mr. Cantrell worked for the Tulsa County Public Defender's office at the time, but, now, he as well as Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Nightengale serves on the bench as a Tulsa County District Judge. He works on civil cases now and still remembers this case as one he, quote, "really would have liked to try himself." I am sure April and everyone who knows her wishes that too. When Mr. Cantrell was her attorney, he worked hard to make sure that April got the mental health treatment she needed in the jail. He gets another, female attorney, Lynn Worley involved in the case, she is able to gain admittance to visit April and she is able to bring Licensed Professional Counselor Lynda Driskell in with her. The two of them visited April for a total of 40 hours of therapy during the year she served in the county jail. Here's an excerpt of a letter from Lynda to the parole board in 2009: "I met April in July of 1998, when I became involved in her case as an advocate and counselor with domestic violence intervention services in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the request of the national clearinghouse for the defense of battered women, April's case was referred to DVIS so that she would have access to counseling during her trial. April was initially held in the Tulsa County Adult Detention Center in Tulsa while she awaited trial. I met with her there for approximately 40 hours of face-to-face counseling sessions and wrote a pre-sentence investigative assessment report on her behalf. Since she has been incarcerated at Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility, I have maintained contact with April for the past 11 years. Her parents, Rex and Louise Fitchue, have also kept me apprised of the outcome of April's appeals. My first impression of April as a sensitive, compassionate young woman has not changed since I met her all those years ago. At that time, her story of domestic violence paralleled the hundreds of stories I had heard from other women who were battered. However, the outcome of her circumstances was the most tragic of any case in which I have been involved. The photographs and forensic documentation of the brutal injuries April sustained from Terry's acts of physical and sexual violence, strengthened my belief that she acted in self-defense. I sincerely believed then, as I do now, that April did what she had to do to survive. April acknowledges that Terry Carlton's death was a horrible loss for his family. And, at the same time, April has always maintained that she would have died if she had not defended herself against Terry's brutal assaults and threats to kill her. April also acknowledges the pain that Terry's family has endured. And I believe for that she is truly remorseful." Lynda was actually an expert on battered woman syndrome. And she's who April's defense attorney should have called it trial, but didn't. We'll talk about that more in a few episodes. A few months before trial, April's parents began to grow uneasy at the thought of leaving their daughter's fate to a public defender. An insider tip: if you're ever entitled to a public defender, you should take it because a, they absolutely know what they are doing. And b, oftentimes have better relationships with judges and prosecutors because they're around them so much. So her parents get the money together to hire a private attorney, and they choose a man named Chris Lyons. You're going to hear a lot about Chris Lyons on this podcast. I think it's worth saying here that hindsight is 2020. And there are always things that you wish you would have done differently, especially in a murder trial. And also a lot has changed in the last 20 years around how we talk about domestic violence, how we think about drug addiction, and how we go about defending a murder case like this, as well as how April would have been seen by her peers. Nonetheless, it's unavoidable. We will be talking about Mr. Lyons and some of the choices he did and didn't make in defense of his client. And as of the time of this recording, we have reached out to Chris Lyons office trying to start a dialogue with him about this case, but we have not yet heard back. If that changes, we'll be sure to update you. A year goes by mostly without incident as April languishes in the county jail. Outside the jail, there's some big drama going on in the Tulsa County District Attorney's office. Longtime top Tulsa cop and elected District Attorney David L. Moss died of a heart attack in 1995, just one year after being elected to his final term. His first assistant, Tim Harris was appointed interim District Attorney until then-Governor Keating appointed former mayor Bill LaFortune to the role. In May 1998, a month after April shot Terry in self-defense, LaFortune announced that he was resigning and Governor Keating was faced with another tough appointment. Just six months before the next DA election. Keating chose Chuck Richardson, who Keating describes to the Tulsa World at the time as a nail-chewing, anti-crook aggressive prosecutor. Governor Keating stated that that was the kind of prosecutor Tulsans wanted. He chose Richardson even though public records showed that Richardson's father, Gary, had donated 1000s to Keating's campaign. In addition, Richardson did not have the support of the Tulsa police department. Years prior, Richardson had defended a murder case, quote "a little too zealously," according to police, who said that he browbeat them on the stand. You can imagine, once TPD realized that Richardson was going to mount a full-on campaign for DA that fall of 1998, they needed to come up with a challenger who they could fully support. Former first assistant district attorney Tim Harris filed in the race to run against Richardson. Even though Harris only raised $30,000 compared to Richardson's $117,000 (and those are 1998 dollars), he won the seat in November '98 to take office in January 1999, just four months before April's trial. It's worth noting that the Tulsa World actually calls out Harris's two largest donations that are in the $2,000 range, and one of them is from his mother. The 1998 race was the first one in a long time to break campaign donation records. Harris would go on to collect thousands in donations over the years, and he would be reelected three more times until he chose not to run again in 2013. We're obviously going to talk a lot more about Mr. Harris as we go on. But for now, let's look at the landscape right before trial. Tim was a big underdog to a very moneyed candidate who had the backing of Oklahoma's tough-on-crime governor. And yet, Tim won. And now he has to prove himself. He has to show the people of Tulsa County that he can deliver. April's case is one of the biggest cases to go at that time. And it's one of the first big murder cases Tim Harris will try as elected prosecutor. It's also one of the first cases to officially use battered women's syndrome as a defense after it was certified as admissible by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in a 1995 case called Bechtel v. State. On April 5, 1999, April's murder trial officially began. Chris Lyons and his legal assistant Ed Clark, who had just graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies the year before, were sitting at the Feds table with April. At the prosecutors tablem were newly-seated district attorney Tim Harris and his first chair, Rebecca Brett-Nightengale. Ms. Brett-Nightengale also goes on to run for district judge and wins the seat in 2003. She still sits on the bench today, and is one of the longest standing judges in the district. April's father came to every day of the trial and her sister, Mary, took detailed notes each day to report back to their mother. In Tulsa, Jurors are pulled from a cross section of the population that have driver's licenses. Everyone who gets assigned to jury duty that week shows up Monday morning and they sit in the basement of the courthouse until their name is called. And they're sent to a courtroom where a jury trial is about to happen. Then the lawyers commence a process called voir dire. Voir Dire is French for "to speak the truth." This is the process of making sure your jury panel is truly impartial to both sides, and that each juror understands a few critical things. One, the defendant is presumed innocent of the charges presented and, two, the state has the burden of proving every element of the crime charged. The defense does not have to prove anything. Voir dire, or voe dy-er if you're an Oklahoma State Court attorney, is the literal most boring part of a criminal trial. However, it's also one of the most important things and you can win or lose cases on voir dire. The goal is to choose 12 impartial jurors and one alternate in case someone gets sick or cannot make it back to the court for some excusable reason. Each attorney's side gets nine peremptory strikes. A peremptory strike, just as a side note, for the non-attorneys listening is an opportunity to strike a juror to get rid of them with - without reason. You don't have to have cause. But, and this is important, if an attorney can get someone to say that they cannot be fair or if the court gets them to say it, then they must be struck for cause. So that's the difference peremptory you strike them. You don't have to have a reason. Except you can't be discriminatory based on race. If you testify during voir dire as a juror, that you can't be fair, impartial, you'll be stricken for cause. And this makes sense if you think about it, because it's in the interest of both sides that anyone be removed, who says they cannot be fair, if an attorney believes someone might be able to be fair, but they just don't like the perspective that person brings to the trial, then they can use one of their peremptory strikes, it ends up being a big strategy piece - how you use your strikes on who how to see what the other side is striking. So naturally, if you can get one of the jurors you don't like stricken for cause, that it's more peremptory strikes for you to exercise on people who clearly favor one side or the other. But they won't come out and say, "Look, I can't be impartial." So yeah, it starts getting heady really quick. But another way attorneys use voir dire is to begin to create a narrative and set the tone for their case. And a really masterful attorney can pique the curiosity of jurors with the types of questions that they ask. And if they traverse the landscape carefully enough, they can begin to prejudice jurors against the defendant or against the state subliminally. We see this happen in April's case almost immediately. First, it's a huge advantage, but the state gets to go first and talk to potential jurors. So Tim Harris, the one we just talked about a little bit ago who just got elected, he gets to go up in front of the potential jury pool. There are 12 jurors in the box and probably 20 people sitting out in the gallery of the courtroom. But the people sitting out in the gallery have to pay just as close attention to the questions as everyone in the box because when someone gets stricken from the box, they randomly call someone out of the gallery to come and fill that spot. So, the process takes a long time. In April's case it took five whole days to pick the jury. Tim Harris talks to the folks in the box for a long time and his primary focus being the fact that they were going to hear things about intravenous drug use and quote, "violent relationships that would be completely foreign to them and foreign to their ways of life." What this does is immediately begins to other April as someone foreign to the jury, she is someone that they can never understand or get behind. She's dirty, she uses drugs and she fights. She's one of those women who can really antagonize you if you know what I mean. He asked the jurors if they have ever experienced abuse, if they know any police officers if they would be biased against April or for April because she is moderately - yes, he said moderately - attractive. The questions go on for what seem like ages. By the time Chris Lyons the defense attorney is able to get up and speak to jurors, they are completely worn down and intellectually exhausted. And they view Tim Harris as their faithful guide through this extremely confusing and exasperating legal process.   So as you can see, this trial gets complicated fast. Once the jury is chosen, things really get up and running, and we can see two sides emerging. One is clearly gaining more traction in the room, and the two sides are, one: April was a poor, dirty drug addict who needed to get her fix. She was a gold digger. She used Terry for money, and vacations and ultimately went to his house that night to kill him and rob him. Two, the other side: April was a battered woman who had tried to call the police and file protective orders but to no avail. And because the system abandoned her, she had to take matters into her own hands to protect yourself.   Voir dire is a necessary and important part of the entire trial process. In theory, it keeps us from devolving into blood feuds when a conflict arises amongst members of our society, calling 12 people from the community at large to decide what is fair and just is a poetic way to keep the peace. Jurors are some of the most powerful people in our society. They decide the norms we must abide by within the bounds of the law. So who makes it onto a jury is important for how our communities dole out justice... In part two of this week's episode, Colleen and I will be exchanging stories to highlight just some of the curious, upsetting and strange ways both the State and Defense go about selecting the jury. This jury pool has a very high number of potential jurors who have experienced domestic violence or mental health issues. There are stories that illuminate the problems of disproportionate dismissals of black and brown jurors, female jurors, jurors who have documented mental health diagnoses that are completely managed, among others. We hope you'll find our analysis of the jury selection process insightful before we return to storytelling next week. So check out part two of this week's episode to hear jury selection analysis in detail. In next week's episode, we'll be taking a deep dive look at one of the state's witnesses who offers particularly damaging testimony against April. Panic Button is a co-production of Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs.   We're your hosts Colleen McCarty and Leslie Briggs. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by GYOM. The production team is Leslie Briggs and Rusty Rowe. We're recorded at Bison and Bean studio in Tulsa. Special thanks to Lynn Worley, Amanda Ross, and Ashlyn Faulkner for their work on this case. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at OK_Appleseed across all social platforms. You can subscribe right now and the apple podcast app by clicking on our podcast logo and clicking the subscribe button. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our Panic Button podcast community on Book Clubs. Join for free at Bit.ly/3NRHO8C. Thanks so much for listening.

Tuesday Jul 12, 2022

In the ongoing nightmare of April and Terry's relationship, the event that catapults them into pure chaos starts on the night of December 6th, 1997. April has been staying away from Terry, but ends up going to his house to ask for the money he owes her. His place is wrecked and he doesn't look so good. What happens next launches Terry and April into an unbreakable cycle of violence that no one was able to stop--except April herself. ___________________ Resources: For pictures of exhibits introduced at trial of the scene of the rape, April's injuries, and more visit okappleseed.org/episode-3-show-notes  LA Times article about Don Carlton's bribery scandal: https://web.archive.org/web/20211117194929/https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-03-16-fi-34784-story.html%C2%A0 TIME Magazine story on Honda scams: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,3976,00.html Instagram post containing the Affidavit of Federal Judge Claire Egan: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQWQJrUDy-m/ Detailed Timeline of Events in April's Case: https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/2022/02/12/timeline-of-events/ Sign the Change.org petition to support April's release: https://www.change.org/p/oklahoma-pardon-parole-board-commute-the-life-sentence-of-abuse-survivor-april-wilkens?signed=true Donate to keep our work going!: neappleseed.org/okappleseed Learn more about Oklahoma Appleseed: okappleseed.org If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. You can also search for a local domestic violence shelter at www.domesticshelters.org/. If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Have questions about consent? Take a look at this guide from RAINN at www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent. Learn more about criminalized survival at www.survivedandpunishedny.org/. Learn more about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at www.nysda.org/page/DVSJA. Follow the #freeaprilwilkens campaign on Instagram at @freeaprilwilkens, on Twitter and on their webpage at https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/. Colleen McCarty is one of the hosts, executive director of Oklahoma Appleseed, and producer.  Leslie Briggs is the other host who is a civil rights and immigration attorney, and producer. Rusty Rowe provides additional production support. We're recorded at Bison and Bean Studios in Tulsa. Additional support from Amanda Ross and Ashlyn Faulkner. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Gyom.  Panic Button is created in partnership with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs. Follow OK Appleseed on Twitter and Instagram at @ok_appleseed. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our Panic Button podcast community on Bookclubz at bit.ly/3NRHO8C.   TRANSCRIPT:    Colleen McCarty 00:01 If you're just tuning in, I suggest you go back and start listening from chapter one. Before we start a content warning: this episode contains accounts of domestic and sexual violence. Today's episode is a little longer than usual, we hope you'll stick with us. It's better for the story. If we tell you this chunk all together, the amount of violence, abuse, and frankly astounding acts of coercive control detailed in this episode are overwhelming. So take breaks when you need to. In early December of 1997, April's childhood friend Carrie was struggling. She had an infant child, and she was about to lose her house if she couldn't make the mortgage. April and Carrie had known each other since the eighth grade. When Carrie called April that night near Christmas in 1997, she was in tears. She was going to lose the house; she could lose the baby. Carrie wanted to know if April could loan her some money, just this once, to help her get out of this financial crisis. April's business had been going through bankruptcy. She'd struggled to show up to work the past few months because of everything that had been happening in her personal life. She was in no position to loan her old high school friend any money. But there was one person that owed April money. If she could get the money from him, she could give it to Carrie. The person who owed April money was Terry Carlton. This is Panic Button, Chapter Three: Hostile State. I'm Colleen McCarty,   Leslie Briggs 01:45 and I'm Leslie Briggs. In this episode, we're detailing the months of December 1997 to the night of the murder on April 28, 1998. It's hard to comprehend the chaos that April's life had become by this point. So there may be some skipping around in this episode because there's just so much that's going on. April had been doing her best to stay away from Terry after what had happened with the guitar neck. She was avoiding his calls, refusing to see him. But ever since April had stopped talking to Terry, unsettling things began happening around her house. April was being stalked. She had a prowler. Prowler was visiting her house multiple nights out of the week. There was often evidence of someone inside the house. At night, April would catch the shadow of a man lurking outside her windows. She even heard someone on the roof a few times. Throughout the fall and early spring, she was reporting the Prowler to the Tulsa police constantly. Curiously, the police would arrive mere moments after the Prowler had run off. April was also having problems with her door locks. Of course April suspects the Prowler was Terry, but the police were never able to catch him. And even though the police never managed to catch the Prowler, April's neighbor, Glinda McCarley, testifies about seeing Terry constantly speeding away from April's home in the spring of 1998. Quote, "It was just uncanny. How, when the police were called, his timing was impeccable. He could be in his car and gone just as they rounded the corner and only on one occasion do I know that they got there before we left." But back to December 1997. April, in her desire to help Carrie, reaches out to Terry about money for her friend's family. Terry agrees to pay April some money he owed her and April would give the money to Carrie. So, Carrie, her husband Alan, and April all go over to Terry's house in early December 1997 to get the money. Once at Terry's house, April notices that he's not looking so good. It looked like he hadn't left the house in a while. He had not been taking care of himself. He had no groceries. He looked like a wreck. In any event, Terry writes April a check and tacts on an additional $2,000. Terry asks April to cash the check and bring him that extra $2,000 in cash. He also gave April his credit card and the keys to his car. He asked her to go to Walmart to get him some things - some groceries, bring him some supplies. Bring back the cash, the credit card, and the car. So April leaves with Carrie and Alan and the three of them cash the check. April gives the rest of the money to Carrie and Alan and keeps the $2,000 for Terry. Then they part ways. Then, as instructed, April goes to Walmart at at first and Louis in Tulsa. As April goes into the Walmart, she actually sees an old high school friend of hers, Shannon Broyles, and that's just classic Tulsa. I mean, everybody knows everybody here. It's a big little city.   Colleen McCarty 04:39 It's actually not clear from the testimony if Shannon saw April heading into the store, or when she was at the checkout. April buys all the items that Terry had requested and heads to the checkout stand. The credit card didn't match April's signature, so the clerk asked to call Terry to make sure April had permission to use the card. April gave the clerk his number and then Terry got on the phone. April testifies the conversation went something like this. Clerk, quote, "Are you allowing a miss April Wilkins to use your card today Mr. Carlton?" Terry, quote, "No." Terry told the clerk "No." Even after he had given April the check to cash, the card to buy groceries and his car to transport everything. Terry tells the clerk to hold April there until he can come get his belongings. Shannon remembered that April seemed scared. To quote Shannon's testimony at trial, quote, "It was in the early morning hours and she - she said she couldn't even talk to me after not seeing me a long time. She couldn't stop and talk to me. Because she had to get out of there. She was afraid. She said she needed to leave. Question. All right. Did she say what she was afraid of? Answer from Shannon. Yes, sir. Question from the attorney. Okay. And what was that please? Answer from Shannon. She was afraid that Terry Carlton, she said, her boyfriend, said his name was going to come up there because he was mad at her for I believe it was using a card and for being gone too long."   Leslie Briggs 06:13 So, Terry shows up at Walmart and who drives him there? The Tulsa police officers walk Terry inside and he stirs up a confrontation. He's belligerently saying she's not supposed to be doing this. Despite the fact that Terry is alleging that April has committed the crimes of credit card fraud and auto theft, he tells the officers he doesn't want to press charges and he just he's going to take her home. So the officers leave, and Terry takes April back to his car and drives her to his house. No one in this situation seems to have thought it was odd that the victim of credit card and auto theft by his crazy ex-girlfriend just takes the thief with him to his car, and the two of them leave together. The police simply take Terry at his word. There's no effort on their part to find out if that his report has been made in good faith or if it's utterly false, which if he had made a false report would be a crime on Terry's part. But no, his word is taken at face value by the police. Now on the car ride home, Terry's mood has shifted wildly. April, looking back now, believes he must have been running out of drugs. He had asked her to make a large cash withdrawal while she was cashing that check for Carrie. And she knew the cash would be used to replenish his stash. Here's April talking about what happened at Walmart.   April Wilkens 07:35 He shows up with the police. All I remember is him telling them you know, "I'll take her . I don't want to press charges. I'll take her in." He probably neglected to tell them hey, I wrote her this $2,000 check -or I mean I - it was more than that. I don't remember how much we got for Carrie off hand right now. And tells them, "You know, I'll take her in." I'm just still kind of stunned by it all. I'm like, "Here is your money. Here's your $2,000. It's right there. You know, you asked me to do this." I remember the $2,000, as I remembered and I and I knew he wanted it for drugs. I was drug money cash, right. So. So we got that. And I remember when I got back to his house, that's when I just took off running, you know? And that's when I locked myself in that upstairs room. And it has a - it's an old house and it has a - you can lock it from the inside or the outside. So he locked me in the room and I had the room locked from the inside. It kind of goes blank from there. And I remember - it's - I don't know how long it was in there and that he - might have to go - I may have testified to it. I don't remember how long I was in there. At some point he tries to get in and he can't because I've got it locked from the inside. And that's when he kicks it - kicks it in and comes in. And that's when he yeah raped me at his house.   Colleen McCarty 09:03 As a small aside April and Shannon's relationship seems to be rekindled after they saw each other in Walmart. April begins to reach out to Shannon and tell her about the terror she's been going through. At one point, Shannon drops by April's house to show it to her boyfriend, a former police officer. Shannon rings April's doorbell but there's no answer. Quote, "April didn't answer the door at that time," end quote, Shannon later testifies. She goes to the back of the house and April tells her to come in through the backyard. Shannon, who lived with April their senior year of high school, knew that April was a neat freak. She was shocked to see the state of April's house. The door to April's bedroom had been kicked in and there was broken glass everywhere. And remember in episode one, when we told you that April called someone from her neighbor's house the night of the murder to ask if she could borrow a guard dog? That was Shannon Shannon had a doberman....   Leslie Briggs 10:02 Let's go back to the aftermath from the Walmart incident. Terry is driving April to his house and April and has a hard time remembering all of the details. But she knows that as soon as she was able to she was running. And she was running up the stairs and into the guest bedroom of Terry's house because it has a lock both a key lock and a deadbolt. And the room could be locked from either the inside or the outside. April is utterly terrified. And she knows that Terry's going to hurt her. And for some time, he has her locked inside the guest room from the outside. As soon as he unlocks it to come in, she locks it from the inside. Here's April at trial, quote, "I remember being locked in the room for a very long time. And then I remember you know, I had locked - I had locked him out. And then he locked me in I guess, and then I was there for quite some time. At some point he beat the door and kicked it in and attacked me. He tried to unlock it to come in and when he saw that I had locked it too, he - so he attacked me." Again, just a quick warning that this portion of the episode details another rape. So if you want to skip ahead, now's the time... So Terry is furious and breaks down the door to his own guestroom. He comes in shoves a valium pill wrapped in bread down April's throat. At trial, April's attorney had introduced photos of the doorframe and the door that Terry had broken down and we'll probably drop those in the show notes if we can get them.   Colleen McCarty 11:41 Terry violently raped April and caused vaginal injuries as well as injuries to her lower back. Her neck was also injured. She was drugged, she blacked out. And the next thing she remembers is waking up in the guest bed completely unable to move. She was terrified thinking that she had been paralyzed. She cried and screamed for Terry to call 911. "Please call 911." Terry must have been alarmed because he actually did call. When they arrived, April tells police that she was raped. Terry told the female officer at the scene that April was just one big bruise. The officers handcuffed Terry. So here we are: a critical moment where things might have gone differently. Terry's in handcuffs for the first time after all of April's reporting to the police. He's going to be taken in and booked for raping April. Finally, the system is going to work for her. Finally, law enforcement have the bad guy. Finally, April is going to get some distance and time between her and Terry and maybe she's going to get away, get help, and get out. Except. That's not what happens. Over the radio comes Sergeant Rick Hellberg and order for this officers to quote Uncuff him and just make a report. Terry is released and the officers do make a report. Officers documented the scene taking pictures of the bedroom and of April's injuries to her chin and neck. They drove her to Hillcrest hospital where she got a SANE exam. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse exam. The exam showed signs of rape and sexual abuse including bruising, redness and a laceration. A female officer from the scene followed after to be with April at Hillcrest and then drove her home. April realized that her purse was still at Terry's. April tells us that she asked the officer, quote, "Can you go get my purse and bring it to me?" end quote. She obviously didn't feel safe going to her rapist's house, understandably. According to April, the female officer refuses. She apparently tells April that she will not go back to Terry's house for her purse because, quote, "Terry creeps her out."   Leslie Briggs 14:06 Later that week, Terry showed up at April's house. April testified at trial quote, "He was very concerned about rape charges being filed and my cooperation. He was very interested that I not cooperate. So he was staying very close to me."   April Wilkens 14:21 And that's when Tim Harris makes a big deal out of "Well you were with him." He came and got me; he had this form on supposed to sign this form that it was not rape, that it was consensual sex and, you know, and like and "I'm not signing this." It wasn't consensual and so he was keeping me with him then till I was signing this form, right? Here we go.   Leslie Briggs 14:41 So Terry intimidates April with a form that he's had drawn up. He wants her to sign it saying that the rape was actually consensual. And until she signed the form, April would not be allowed to leave Terry's sight. Ultimately, April was able to convince Terry that she would not cooperate with authorities and that she would not let the rape case go forward. But she could not get away from Terry. He was coming by he was stealing her mail. We find out later that he was tapping her phones with a small bugging device that he bought at RadioShack.   Colleen McCarty 15:12 Also in the spring of 1998, April begins to spend time with a friend, Luke Draffin. I feel the need to mention that his middle name is Leonidas. Luke Leonidas Draffin. Refined. We heard about him a little bit in episode one, and we may do a bonus episode about him if we have time because he is truly a perplexing engyma in this story. When April is with Luke, Terry leaves her alone. It's been posited that Luke was a criminal informant or an undercover cop. He had connections to an UnderSheriff in Creek County, which is a neighboring county to Tulsa, and he was always packing both guns and drugs. Terry is unusually wary about Luke. When Luke is around, Terry backs off. One might wonder if Luke was supplying Terry with drugs. Despite claiming to be an undercover cop by the time of trial, Luke has been arrested and charged with several felonies. In the spring of 1999, at the same time, April is being tried for shooting Terry, Luke was facing four felony charges: unlawful possession of a controlled substance, possession of a firearm while committing a felony, unlawful possession of paraphernalia, and unlawful possession of marijuana. By the time he testifies at trial in 1999, he's in custody. When he comes to testify, he's been rented over from jail, and he appears in court in handcuffs.   Leslie Briggs 16:42 But back in the spring of 1998, as things progressed with Luke and April starts to feel like she has someone to rely on, Terry's obsession and desire to control April is reaching a fever pitch. April had a set of French doors that open to her backyard from the master bedroom. Terry had broken in through this set of doors numerous times. The doorframe is broken, the locks don't work. April put a bungee cord around the handles on the inside to keep them closed. Then, Terry busted them in so hard that the bungee cord broke and the door handles went flying. She had to stack furniture against the door and boxes of books in hopes that she could sleep without fear of Terry breaking in. Except when he couldn't get in the French doors, he just came bursting in through the front and then April would be trapped. When April's neighbor Glenda McCarley talked to the police, she told them that she would frequently hear Terry's car engine. And, as a reminder, Terry's father owned one of the few Acura car dealerships in Tulsa and so Terry had an Acura NSX that had a unique sound. In any event, Glenda McCarley would frequently hear Terry's car out front of April's house at least five nights a week in the middle of the night. When Terry found out that April was spending time with Luke, he became obsessive and jealous. In the early months of 1998, Terry begins offering Luke money to stay away from April. There's some dispute as we mentioned in episode one as to whether Terry also gave Luke his Harley Davidson motorcycle. April had heard that Luke was riding the motorcycle around town. Regardless, Terry manages to insert himself between Luke and April. The one person April can rely on to keep her physical person safe. We will come to find out that unfortunately, Luke and Terry are more alike than different. Even though Luke was not physically abusive to April he was supplying her with drugs. And, Luke eventually strikes a deal with Terry to stay away from April. Here's how Luke testifies at trial for the state: The district attorney Tim Harris asks, 'Defense counsel asked you why you didn't want to have anything to do with her when she was at the executive Inn on the night of the murder. Could you clarify that? What was it about a person you had seen the one - one time a week for five months that you didn't want to have anything to do with?' Luke answers, "Well, I you know, made the deal with Terry, you know, it was between me and him and it was late at night and I didn't feel like messing with it. You know, I was in bed. I was asleep." Tim Harris says, "the offer for Mr. Carlton to you to stay away. How much were you offered?" Luke testifies "About 5,000."   Colleen McCarty 19:24 It is around this time that April continues to tell Terry she wants to break up. She says she can never be with him because she has a son and Hunter will never be safe with Terry around. Once Terry realizes that it's Hunter standing in the way of them being together, he begins to threaten Hunter and frightened April about the security of her son. She's so afraid that she calls her ex-husband Eric and asks him to file for sole custody. Up until this time, April had been a devoted mother. She didn't even believe in spaking her child. Hunter had lived the majority of his life with April. For her to give up custody was a shock and should have signaled to everyone in her life that something was very wrong.   Hunter 20:10 So she's with Terry, and all of a sudden, I stopped going over to my mom's house for, I don't know, I - I think we skipped two weeks. I didn't say anything. And then the third week, I asked my dad, I was like, the hell are we doing, man? Like, why am I not going over to mom's house? Like, you're pissing me off. I don't want to be over here anymore. She's told me that she kept - she called my dad like, "No, I can't take him right now. Because Terry's is being fucking insane. And we can't have Hunter anywhere near because I think he might hurt him."   Colleen McCarty 20:47 We spoke with a law professor at Wake Forest, who's an expert in criminalized survivorship. Her name is Jane Aiken, and she said that many women will not protect themselves, but a switch flips when they realize their children could be hurt. April told us when we visited that this was true for her. Luke in April of 38 for protection. She remembers having a phone conversation with someone and telling them that even if Terry did break into her house, she would be too effing nice to use the gun on him. But if she did it, it would be justifiable homicide, due to Terry's numerous assaults on her and the fact that he would be entering in her house. Sidenote, April gave up swearing several years ago, so she refused to say the actual f-word when retelling us this conversation. The conversation about her not being able to shoot Terry was recorded on the tapping device that Terry had installed. However, according to Don Carlton's pre-sentencing letter to the court, due to some technical difficulty, Tim Harris was unable to introduce this recording at trial. As Don Carlton, Terry's dad, describes the recording it irrefutably establishes premeditative intent on April's part. Let's stop for a second and consider that proposition. Newly elected district attorney Tim Harris was unable to play evidence that would irrefutably establish an essential element of his case. That is pretty stunning. We've been unable to find that recording it yet but if we do, we'll play it here.   Leslie Briggs 22:28 In early February 1998, Terry comes to April's house, armed with a glock nine millimeter, a billy club, tear gas, and a stun gun. April was in the back of the house and Luke was there. Luke actually lets Terry in the front door. Terry went to the back of the house, into April's bedroom and wanted to talk. When he sat down on one of the chairs April heard a thump. She demanded to know what the thump was. At first Terry refused to tell her but she said the conversation would go no further until she knew what he had in his pocket. Terry pulled out the glock and slid it out the bedroom door before closing it again. At this point April starts calling out to Luke that Terry's in the back, he's got a gun, but there's no answer. April tells Terry he's not to be at her house. She doesn't want to see him. He immediately flies into a rage charging at her with the stun gun. Terry kept saying that April owed him a fuck, and he was going to take it. He rips off her clothes and he has her on the bed threatening her with the stun gun. She's calling out desperately for help. But apparently Luke had walked out when Terry arrived, abandoning April to whatever fate awaited her. April used the only defense that she had that sometimes worked against Terry: words. She said, "If you're going to take your fuck anyway, just back up a minute. Let me relax and get to where I can try to enjoy it." April manages to wiggle out from underneath him as she tries to talk him into stopping. She's able to reach the 38 pistol that Luke had given her, which She's hidden at the head of her bed. Terry is standing up beside the bed at this point and April points the gun at Terry's head. He's enraged and starts to grab the gun. April pulls the trigger but the gun doesn't fire. Terry actually tells April at this time, "I'm God and I am Satan." And April is frankly starting to believe it. Terry is furious, and he attacks April again, then abruptly stops when he hears Luke come back into the house. Terry runs off and flees from April's home. Later after breaking into April's home again Terry steals the gun that Luke has given her. Small reminder at this point. Most legal scholars agree that the law of self defense allows you to use deadly force to protect your life or to protect yourself from being raped. A potential rape victim can use deadly force if she reasonably believes her rapist will cause great bodily injury or death, you can check out 21 OS section 733 to fact check me.   Colleen McCarty 25:06 During this time period April notices that Terry has a police scanner and that anytime she calls police, he is easily able to evade them by listening to their responses on the scanner. On February 21, 1998, the abuse and stalking had culminated to an almost daily terror. Terry had stolen April's keys to her house, the remote to her gate and the garage door opener. Terry called April in the middle of the night, and she said she did not want to see him. "I'm coming over," he spits into the phone and hangs up. April immediately calls 911. Terry pulls into April's driveway and runs up to her side garage door. April can hear him beating on the door with something metal. She's terrified because the last time she saw Terry she'd pointed a gun at him and she knew she wouldn't get away with that. Officer Troy DeWitt of the Tulsa police department pulls in behind Terry's car as he is trying to get in to escape. For the first time since April began calling police after the trip to Rome in 1996, Terry Carlton is arrested and booked in the Tulsa County Jail in the early morning hours of February 21, 1998. Even though stalking was a misdemeanor crime at this point in Oklahoma history, Terry is only booked into the jail for the misdemeanor of transporting a loaded firearm. This is what officer DeWitt wrote in his police report the night he arrested Terry, quote,"On 2-21-98 at 0304 hours, I was radio assigned to 1341 East 35th Street in Tulsa in reference to a domestic with a gun call. Upon arrival, I could hear the suspect, Terry Carlton, yelling behind a large eight-foot fence. As officers approached the residence, I hear a car motor start and a black accurate quickly backed out into the street. Carlton was told to stop and complied. Officials observed a stun gun and part of a Glock pistol that was in a white bag. Officer Anison retrieved the nine millimeter Glock pistol from the passenger side floorboard. And it was chamber loaded and was fully loaded with ammunition. Carlton stated, quote, "I was bringing it" and there's a blank here because it's hard to tell what the officer wrote down on that word. So I'm sorry, but then he keeps going "for her the other day and I just forgot it was there." This residence has a history of domestic violence and threats. Although April Wilkens could not say whether he had threatened her tonight, Wilkens said he had in the past and she felt very threatened. Officers contacted judge Hogshead and an emergency protective order was issued. Carlton was arrested and booked, evidence was turned in on property receipt #A3-2. Before he left officer DeWitt reminded April that even a simple phone call from Terry was a violation of the emergency protective order.   Leslie Briggs 28:13 Officer DeWitt is the only police officer who ever really takes decisive action against Terry Carlton on behalf of April. I know we've been really critical to the police throughout this podcast and I think we have good reason to. But officer DeWitt really is a true hero in this story.   Colleen McCarty 28:29 The next morning, April began receiving phone calls from the Tulsa County Jail. It was Terry, brazenly violating the emergency protective order. April remembered what officer DeWitt said and she called the police again to report the EPO violation. At this time in Oklahoma, someone stalking another person while on a protective order was a felony that could serve up to five years in prison. You can find that at 21 OS 1173, the 1998 version. Still violation of a protective order at all was a felony.   Leslie Briggs 29:07 Officer Aaron Tallman responds to the call. "We just keep expecting to find you dead," he tells April. April shows him the caller ID which shows the Tulsa County Jail and tells officer Tolman about the emergency protective order. Officer Tallman tells April that she's annoying him. He claims that her emergency protective order doesn't say that Terry can't call her. This is of course the opposite of the information that officer DeWitt told her the night before. Nothing is done. And Terry is right back on April's doorstep after he bonds out of jail. April's neighbor, Glenda McCarley testifies about officer Thompson's behavior because she was there to witness it. She describes it as infuriating when he responded to April's 911 call. Here's Geldna McCarley's testimony at trial. Question: "All right, and if you will miss McCarley, tell us what occurred when the police arrived." Miss McCarthy's answer, "Usually, nothing." On the 25th of March 1998, Terry fails to appear in court on his misdemeanor loaded firearm charge. The judge issued a bench warrant for Terry's arrest. And kind of a funny quirk of constitutional law at the time, anytime officers came into contact with Terry, that misdemeanor warrant would have allowed them to arrest him. Except, weirdly, between the hours of 10pm and 6am.   Colleen McCarty 30:30 We have a sight on that it's 22 OS 189 in effect in Oklahoma since 1990. Things are really escalating in the spring of '98. The major episode in the saga starts on April 2, about nine days after Terry's warrant is issued by the court for failing to appear. Terry's just pulled up to April's house. April is running. She runs from 35th N Quincy, west toward Peoria. She crosses Peoria, she's in a church parking lot. She can look across Peoria and see her driveway and see her house and she can see Terry sitting on the road in the street in his car in front of her house. April has absolutely no one else to turn to at this point. Remember, this was before cell phones. And not to mention Terry told April during this time period that he had cut her phone lines. She realized the lines were dead during an altercation with Terry, during which she went to call the police and Terry tells her, "I cut the line. Call them again." Officers later confirmed that her phone lines were indeed cut.   Leslie Briggs 31:44 Also, it's worth noting that around the same time, Terry makes this allegation to April that "It's 500 bucks, baby. That's all it costs to buy a police officer."   Colleen McCarty 31:55 So she's standing there, desperate, in a church parking lot. And she's talking to God. She's asking God to protect her and to please keep her safe. God is her last resort. A small side note here. For those listening who aren't from Oklahoma, we are a reliably Christian state. Oklahoma's religious profile varies markedly from national norms. The state residents identify themselves as Southern Baptist almost seven times more often than other Americans, but Churches of Christ, Methodist, Pentecostal and holiness groups are also much more common in Oklahoma than elsewhere. We also have a high propensity of churches in Oklahoma that encouraged parishioners to pray aloud or even in tongues. Prayer is a powerful medium for change here, and local leaders often asked for prayers when making difficult decisions. I say this to note that talking aloud to God is a common occurrence here. In more religious areas, people often pray over each other aloud before meals, before meetings or before major family functions or difficult conversations.   Leslie Briggs 33:04 And of course, the Supreme Court agrees that this is normal and acceptable and appropriate behavior, even if you're a public school coach. So the religious context here is important because of what happens next. Officer Aaron Tallman Yes, the same Aaron Tallman from before, approaches April in the church parking lot and he witnesses her talking to God. Tallman uses April's behavior as a pretext to search her. In a wrist guard that she wears while rollerblading he finds a syringe. Later at trial when he's testifying. Officer Tollman states that he could have arrested April on a paraphernalia charge even though he could look across Peoria and see Terry parked outside her house waiting for her to return. And I think it's worth reminding everyone that Tallman knew about her history of domestic violence with Terry. He had responded to her house on several occasions, including in February, just two months prior when Terry had violated the emergency protective orde. When Tallman picks April up from the church parking lot. Instead of hitting her with a paraphernalia charge, Officer Tallman calls EOD, which is like a mental health crisis response team. They come out, they check April out, and essentially as I gather from reading the testimony, it's like a paddy wagon that takes April to Parkside Mental Health Institute. So Parkside is an acute mental health facility here in Tulsa. It's around 11th and Utica, about four miles from April's house. So officer Tallman from the Tulsa Police Department had called in what's called a 5150, claiming that April was a danger to herself or to others and he has her involuntarily civilly committed. April was held at Parkside for six days. And during that time, she refuses to let Terry visit her and will not let him attend the civil commitment hearing. On the sixth today, April is able to squirrel the keys to the unit away from the head psychiatric nurse while she's playing Uno. She escapes and heads home. The day she arrives home, she is surprised to find Terry coming in the front door with keys to her house. Terry was armed again with a 38 pistol that Luke had given her. The one that she'd aimed his head back in February. Terry is pissed again. He's upset that she wouldn't let him see her at Parkside and that he wasn't allowed to come to the commitment hearing. Terry's narrative now is that April is sick. And Terry is the only one standing by her to make sure that she's okay. He's telling her friends to call him to check on her. April finds this out later when she would occasionally answer the phone at his house, including on the morning of the shooting, to find her childhood friends on the other side of the line.   Colleen McCarty 35:49 Terry takes April to his house at gunpoint with a 38 he holds her hostage there. We don't have a lot of detail about what happened while Terry was keeping April as a prisoner during this time. We know she could not leave and that he was repeatedly attacking her. She remembers him attacking her on the kitchen floor and attempting to rape her again. Then Terry moves her to the basement and thrusts her onto the couch. Continuing to say he wants to take that buck that she owes him. There was something sharp on the couch - she refers to it as an icepick or a guitar piece. Something that had a sharp end. She landed on it and it stabbed her in the left buttock. April screamed and got up. In the tussle, the remote to the television must have gotten pressed because the TV turns on by itself. Terry is very freaked out by this. Small aside if your people you know use drugs this will sound a lot like the behavior of addicts. April describes Terry as deranged during this time, seeing things that weren't there, somewhat fading in and out of reality. April knows that he told her he was going to take his fuck and then slit her throat and kill himself. While Terry's distracted by the TV coming on, April runs upstairs and puts three of the guns in a black bag. She carries the bag outside and runs across the street to Terry's neighbor, Dr. Laughlin's house. She gets there. And Dr. Dr. Laughlin's wife is home but Dr. Laughlin is not. And she asks Dr. Dr. Laughlin's wife to please help her find the number for Domestic Violence Intervention Services here in Tulsa. She refuses to call the police because of how they had reacted in the past and she was scared that she would get taken back to Parkside. She called Domestic Violence Intervention Services and tells the operator that Terry is suicidal. She was worried he was going to hurt himself or someone else. Because a threat to someone's life is alleged the DV operator had to send the police. When they arrive, they don't just take Terry to Parkside for being suicidal. They take both Terry and April to Parkside and they civilly commit both of them for being dangerous to themselves and others. Terry was released a few hours later, but they hold April at Parkside until April 23.   Leslie Briggs 38:12 On April 23, April is transferred to Eastern State Hospital. This is where she meets a true hero in this story, nurse Betty Cantrell. Betty Cantrell seems to be the first person that April encounters in the mental health system, who doesn't believe she is a danger or psychotic but that she's afraid and suffering from PTSD. What happens at Eastern State is truly a trip. Terry has previously indicated to April that he's the one who had her committed at Parkside, and he's the one who had her committed at Eastern State. We're going to call it ESH for short. Her first call when she gets to ESH is to Terry. She's pleading with him to make them let her go. She truly believes at this point, he's pulling the strings and having hospital staff hold her there so he can teach her a lesson. April stays at ESH from April 23 until the 26th. And during those three days, Carrie tries to visit her three times. Venita is a 45 minute drive from Tulsa and that's where Eastern State is located. April rejects his visits the first two times. On the third time, she lets him come in, and he is absolutely insistent that he sees her. But first let's talk about how he shows up. He arrives in a brand new red Acura with balloons tied to it. He's saying it's her birthday present. He's offering this gift, but only if April will come clean with him about if she's fallen in love with someone else.   Colleen McCarty 39:44 Here's April testifying about this. Quote, "He had been pressuring me. I had, excuse me, I could not have visitors at Parkside. So there was relief there. But he did come see me at Eastern State. I was reluctant to see him but when I did, he began to pressure me into saying I was in love with someone else. And I had told him all along that my feelings for him were independent of my feelings for anyone else. And I didn't want to hurt his feelings. And I didn't want to aggravate him because I - And finally on Sunday, he was very insistent in front of a group of people and also several nurses, he had to have an answer. And I had not said anything to him. And finally, I said - I hadn't said this to him before, because I did not want to hurt his feelings. And I did not want to endanger anyone else. And because I did not want to endanger myself more. And that was I finally said, Okay, I'm in love with someone else, you know? If that's what you need to hear to understand that we're not going to be together." Question, "Was there really someone else?" Answer, "I cared about Luke. I don't know if I was in love with him. But I would never say like I said, Luke, or no, Luke. I was not going to be with Terry. I just wasn't."   Leslie Briggs 41:07 And here's the testimony of the ESH nurse Betty Cantrell, talking about the time that Terry visited April on Sunday afternoon, April 26, 1998, two days before the shooting. Question, "What if anything, did he say or do when he walked up?" Answer from Betty Cantrell, "He asked - told, more - basically told her to come out to the car. He wanted to talk to her. And she kind of nudged me and I said, I'm sorry. She can't go out to the car." Question, "Okay, when you say that he more or less told her to come out to the car. Describe for the court and jury what you observed." And here's nurse Cantrell again. "He was very I mean, he was, he was like a hostile state. He said, 'I want to talk to you privately. I want to talk to you now.' And I said, 'I'm sorry, she cannot go to the car.' And he kept on at her. And I said, 'You can sit right here on this bench with us and talk to her. But I'm sorry, she cannot leave here.'" Question, "What was April's reaction?" Answer, Nurse Cantrell testifies. "She didn't say anything against me telling her to sit down. She sat down. Never had no, she just said, Thank you. That was all she ever said." Question, "How long did this go on?" Answer, "I would say we probably sit there for a good 10 to 15 minutes, maybe?" Question, "All right. And what was Mr. Carlton doing during this period of time?" and nurse Cantrell testifies, "He had cursed at her several different times, telling her that he wanted to talk to her away from where he could talk to her personally. And privately. He did not want anybody present. And every time he would say it, he would kind of curse at her. I tell him no, I'm sorry. She can't." Question "When you say he cursed at her. Do you recall specifically what he said?" Here's nurse Cantrell. "He said at one point, he said, listen, goddamnit I said, I want to talk to you privately. I don't want out in front of everybody else. And I again cautioned him, you know, that she's not going." Question, "All right, what ultimately transpired?" "He started to walk away. And it's an area that from the back of the building where we were sitting, I would say it's farther from here to that wall. It's a little farther than that to the parking area where his car was parked. And at one point, she told me, when he started to walk off, she said, I'm sure glad you didn't let me go with him. And I said, 'Well, why why would you? You know,' I said, 'you can't take off, you know, you got to try to get things taken care of.' She said, 'I understand that. But she said he usually carries a gun with him all the time.' And I said, 'You're not going down to that car.'" So small. Sidenote here after this testimony, Tim Harris, the district attorney asks for a conference at the bench and accuses April's defense of violating the Allen Rule. Colleen, do you want to give us a quick synopsis of the Allen Rule?   Colleen McCarty 44:07 An Allen hearing happens when one side of a case doesn't disclose everything that they have in discovery and when district attorney Tim Harris accuses April's defense attorney, Chris Lyons, of an Allen violation, he's essentially saying that Chris Lyons knew he was going to introduce this fact about the gun, and he withheld it intentionally and that it's an Allen violation.   Leslie Briggs 44:32 Thank you. Harris is very upset about the comment about Terry carrying a gun. Apparently he was never notified by the defense that Betty Cantrell would testify about Terry carrying a gun. Harris is reportedly livid and would like the court to admonish the defense because he finds the fact that Terry carried a firearm to ESH, extremely prejudicial to his case.   Colleen McCarty 45:07 So to close out today's episode, ESH kept April for one more day until Monday, April 27, 1998. They determined she was primarily in need of substance use treatment and that she could seek that help in the community. They sent her to 12 & 12 in Tulsa in a van. As we know from episode one, she ran away from that program and hitchhiked home, which began the final hours of her life before everything changed. Next week on Panic Button, we'll talk about the arrest, the confession, the year April spends in jail. And we'll come through highlights of the lawyers selecting the jury, or as we say in Oklahoma, voir dire. Panic Button is a co-production with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs. We're your hosts, Colleen McCarty and   Leslie Briggs 46:04 Leslie Briggs.   Colleen McCarty 46:05 Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Guillaume. The production team, Leslie Briggs and Rusty Rowe. We're recorded at Bison and Bean studio in Tulsa. Special thanks to Lynn Worely, Amanda Ross, and Ashlynn Faulkner for their work on this case. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at OK_Appleseed across all social platforms. You can subscribe right now in the Apple podcasts app by clicking on our podcast logo and then clicking the subscribe button. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our panic button podcast community on Book Clubs. Join for free at Bit.ly/3NRHO8C. Thank you so much for listening.

Tuesday Jul 05, 2022

In this episode we go back in time to 1980's Kellyville, Oklahoma where April grew up. Then we follow her to the car lot where she met Terry. We will hear the tape that April recorded of a fight between she and Terry after their trip to Italy. On the trip he beat her threatened to and throw her out of their hotel room naked, only to be caught by one of his fellow travelers on the trip. We are trying to categorize the time and place of April and Terry's relationship, and look for patterns of abuse, which escalated as law enforcement continued to turn a blind eye. Resources: For pictures of April as a kid, her wedding, the early years with Hunter, and pictures introduced at trial of April and Terry's international trips,  visit okappleseed.org/episode-2-show-notes  LA Times article about Don Carlton's bribery scandal: https://web.archive.org/web/20211117194929/https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-03-16-fi-34784-story.html%C2%A0 TIME Magazine story on Honda scams: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,3976,00.html Instagram post containing the Affidavit of Federal Judge Claire Egan: https://www.instagram.com/p/CQWQJrUDy-m/ Detailed Timeline of Events in April's Case: https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/2022/02/12/timeline-of-events/ Sign the Change.org petition to support April's release: https://www.change.org/p/oklahoma-pardon-parole-board-commute-the-life-sentence-of-abuse-survivor-april-wilkens?signed=true Donate to keep our work going!: neappleseed.org/okappleseed Learn more about Oklahoma Appleseed: okappleseed.org If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. You can also search for a local domestic violence shelter at www.domesticshelters.org/. If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Have questions about consent? Take a look at this guide from RAINN at www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent. Learn more about criminalized survival at www.survivedandpunishedny.org/. Learn more about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at www.nysda.org/page/DVSJA. Follow the #freeaprilwilkens campaign on Instagram at @freeaprilwilkens, on Twitter and on their webpage at https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/. Colleen McCarty is one of the hosts, executive director of Oklahoma Appleseed, and producer.  Leslie Briggs is the other host who is a civil rights and immigration attorney, and producer. Rusty Rowe provides additional production support. We're recorded at Bison and Bean Studios in Tulsa. Additional support from Amanda Ross and Ashlyn Faulkner. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Gyom.  Panic Button is created in partnership with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs. Follow OK Appleseed on Twitter and Instagram at @ok_appleseed. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our Panic Button podcast community on Bookclubz at bit.ly/3NRHO8C.   TRANSCRIPT Leslie Briggs 00:00 Glenda McCarley had tried to get the badge number of Officer Aaron Tallman just a few months before the shooting of Terry Carlton. She said his response to April Wilkens, her neighbor across the street on Quincy, was, quote, "infuriating." Glenda had seen numerous times Terry stalking around April's house in the late winter of 1997 and early spring of 1998. She said quote, "it was almost a joke, I think, among the neighbors, how he had the timing down so that he could always just leave and two seconds later, they'd round the corner." The he that the neighbors joked about was of course the decedent in this case, Terry Carlton. Regardless, when Officer Tallman arrived to find April sitting on Glenda's porch in the spring of 1998, waiting for help from yet another violent encounter, he walked up to the porch, looked at April and said, "You're beginning to annoy me." This is Panic Button. I'm Leslie Briggs.   Colleen McCarty 01:05 And I'm Colleen McCarty.   Leslie Briggs 01:06 And this is episode 2: Small Town Girl Living in a Violent World.   Colleen McCarty 01:14 Many years before Glenda McCarley asked for Officer Tallman's badge number, April was just a kid from Kellyville, Oklahoma, a small town southwest of Tulsa on the I-44 Turnpike. The town had a population of 960 in 1980 when April was 10. Kellyville is on old route 66. Local landmarks include a cotton gin and oil derricks dotting the town's main street. The cotton gin has since been demolished. Local high schoolers would go out to Cry Baby Bridge, which was ironically rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of a woman who was fleeing her abusive husband and her baby. The two wrecked and the baby's body was never recovered. So the legend goes, you can hear the baby crying from the bridge late at night. April was an average teenager in Kellyville. Her parents worked at a local orthotics and prosthetics clinic. Her father, Rex, was an amputee himself and had learned the business due to necessity. April was a cheerleader. But even though everything looked perfect from the outside, like most Oklahoma homes during this period, there was strong discipline. And like any family, some dysfunction.   April Wilkens 02:26 My upbringing made me susceptible. And I know my parents just did what they knew. They grew up in abusive childhoods. So I know, my dad, he had a tough upbringing. You know, his dad - his dad used to beat his family. And, you know, he was a preacher and my dad felt that was very hypocritical. And, you know, my mom, dad leaving the family. And she grew up being abused. That influences children. And I want to honor their memory. Because even though, yes, there was violence and abuse, I know that they did what they knew. That's how it is. And my sister, she's always - she wanted to write a letter talking about the abuse and all of that. And my mom got mad, and then she didn't put it in there. But she's always encouraged me to talk about it. So, I'm really talking about it for the first time.   Terry Carlton 03:23 April and Mary are actually half sisters. They share the same mom and Mary spent a little bit of time talking with us about her mother's history of domestic abuse with her biological father. And then of course with Mary stepfather April's biological father, Rex. April and Mary's mother often played out these cycles of abuse that we see repeating themselves in April's relationship with Terry. She would leave and return and leave and return and get hooked in with an abusive partner until it got to be unbearable, and she would flee. Mary gave us a little glimpse into what it was like growing up with both her biological father and then with April and Rex and her mother.   Mary 04:07 He grabbed us and my grandmother - I did not know my grandmother called him at work. He worked right down from the house, and she called him. My mother was trying to leave with us. We lived with them. And he threw us in the bathroom. And he had a gun and he said he would shoot us before he'd let her have us. He didn't want us. I know that, you know, as an adult. He just thought she would stay if he did that.   Leslie Briggs 04:29 Eventually, Mary's mother left for good leaving her and her little brother behind with their biological father, who was an alcoholic, extremely physically and emotionally abusive. Mary didn't see her mom for about two years. When she did, she learned she had a little sister. April.   Mary 04:46 She was two, actually, when I met her. My mother had left my father again. I didn't even know I had a two-year-old sister. Like me having a live doll.   Leslie Briggs 04:54 Here's how Mary describes the car ride home after meeting her stepfather, Rex, for the first time.   Mary 04:59 He hit my brother in the mouth on the way to their home, in the car. They just showed up to pick us up. We didn't have any warning or anything whatsoever. And it was so cool to see my mom again. You know, I had nothing but good memories of my mother or love for my mother and I was just, like, so excited. Yes, he hit my brother in the mouth. My brother answered my mother. She asked him something and he simply answered her. I don't remember it being snarky or anything when he ?? He said, "Don't talk to your mother that way," turned around and smacked him in the mouth that made his lip - hit his lip up against his teeth, I guess, and because his mouth bled. I never stood up to him. I was too afraid of him. And he made me kind of crazy. And I stood up to him as an adult, but on the way home, I was just like, really, this cannot be happening again. But it was.   Colleen McCarty 05:45 Throughout the trial, April was hesitant to reveal her childhood. She didn't want to shame her parents. Even though her childhood had episodes of violence, there was a lot of happy memories too. She remembered both her parents standing by her throughout the entire trial and supporting her in the years afterwards. Even though her sister wanted to write a letter to the parole board much later detailing the family abuse, April refused.   Leslie Briggs 06:11 There's even a moment on the stand when the district attorney Tim Harris alleges that April was hospitalized for drug abuse when she was 15. April, in her testimony, does not do a good job of refuting this simply because she was balancing the fact that her parents were in the courtroom listening and she didn't want to make them look bad. The truth was, she had stayed out all night with her friends and her mother had dropped her off at St. John's to get a drug test. Her mother could only conclude that April must have used drugs with her friends. There were of course no drugs in her system. But the doctors asked to keep April overnight due to suspicions of anorexia. Here's how Mary remembers April's eating disorder.   Mary 06:49 No, we all knew something was going on. And I think it was something she could control. Forgive me, but I learned in psychology - now, remember I'm gone and I only come back and visit once in a while and why I can back to visit who knows - but she would go to the strangest phases, bless her heart. She would eat - buy a whole loaf of bread and eat the hearts out of the bread and leave the crust. And then the next week she might just eat the crust and not eat the hearts of the bread. It was just so - the things she would do are so strange, honey. But it was something I think that she could have control over.   Leslie Briggs 07:20 Now of course, April told us that the anorexia was really a function of her home life. Mary shared with us just a small story about how Rex, her stepfather and April's biological father, would speak to them about their eating habits.   Mary 07:36 I never hardly ever brought friends home. But I brought a friend home one time that down the road who was in an abused home just like I was. Some - we attracked each other you know how that is, I'm sure, somehow. But I went in the kitchen and made us some peanut butter and honey was - we were gonna eat it on crackers. And I made enough for two people because I had a friend there with me. And he came into the kitchen, and I was a pig and I was never going to get married. No man was ever going to look at me. How could I eat that much? And I was skinny - I mean, I was so skinny it was ridiculous. Because I could - I could eat whatever I wanted you know what I mean? And not get - Anyway, I stood there and took it. Went into the bedroom, sat down, ate that. She said, "So this is why you don't ever ask me over?" I said "Uhuh." I just didn't. Why would you? I was humiliated. You can only imagine -   Leslie Briggs 08:25 Ultimately, they diagnosed April as anorexic at 15 and sent her home with little information or treatment resources. But April was always incredibly intelligent. She graduated high school two years early, went on to Oklahoma State University for undergraduate studies, where she majored in clinical dietetics. She later attended an accelerated program in orthotics and prosthetics at Northwestern University in Chicago. She graduated with her Master's in 1991 when she was just 21 years old.   Colleen McCarty 08:55 In 1990, when she was 20, she met Eric Wilkens and got pregnant with Hunter. She was attending her Master's program in Chicago while Eric went to undergrad at the University of Oklahoma. They were married. Eric and April then divorced in 1993 after the long distance relationship had taken a toll. They'd grown apart. And April would later say that she was too young to appreciate a good man like Eric. We talked with Hunter, April's son, recently about the divorce and what he remembers about his mom in those early years.   Hunter 09:28 I was five years old. And you know, it was a clean split up. I think they had joint custody at the time. So I was spending a week at my dad's, a week at my mom's. Completely normal. My mom's house was awesome. I had the entire upstairs to myself. I had a TV hooked up to an N64. I had a computer in the mid 90s, which was awesome. I don't even think there was internet to it. It was just a computer that you could do things with. I think there was sometimes you'd get internet to it or not. I had a Batcave and I red racecar bed, which was super cool. The Batcave had a zipline, where Batman could slide through. Living at my mom's house was really nice. Like, it was really cool that she was - she was - she spoiled me rotten. My dad did not like it at all. The only thing I did not like about my mom's house is that she made me eat healthy and soy stuff.   Colleen McCarty 10:48 Hunter remembers that April was a good mom.   Hunter 10:50 She was a parents. She was good parents. She - she told me to do everything that I needed to do. I did everything she that she told me to do. And she you know she - we had a good time. She she took me out places and I mean we had a good time. It was it was it was great.   Colleen McCarty 11:06 During the early 1990s April was a working single mom with not too much drama in her life. As you can see, April is not the typical criminal defendant in a murder case. She's a woman. She's white, and she's highly educated. This demographic is not typically who you would see sitting behind the defendant's table. By the nature of the system, most defendants are impoverished with a high percentage being people of color. Most defendants have not completed any college, most prosecutors would not want to prosecute someone like April. She is what we would call sympathetic to an extreme degree.   Leslie Briggs 11:44 Which is a whole separate level of fucked up that we're going to get into throughout this podcast, but it's the truth. Interestingly enough, Terry was also growing up in Tulsa, about 20 miles away from Kellyville. In 1989, the year of his first stint in drug rehab, he was 31. And there's a 12-year age difference between Terry and April that doesn't get discussed much but it's certainly an element to issues of power and control and abuse in this relationship. Terry had gone to the University of Oklahoma, and he was described as a good athlete and a talented musician. Terry's father, Don Carlton gained some notoriety, or infamy depending on how you look at it, for offering a Honda executive and briefcase with $250,000 in cash in 1983 in order to secure the rights to his own dealership. Now ultimately, Don Carlton was not prosecuted in that matter, but the man who took the bribe was. And the scandal was profiled and Time Magazine as well as the LA Times and we're going to drop links to those articles in the show notes. So, from 1991 to 1995, April and Terry are just living their lives separately unaware of each other's existence. Also in the late 80s and early 90s, Terry's ex wife Sherry Blanton and another ex-girlfriend, Melinda Wallace, would go on to make police reports about Terry getting abusive with them toward the end of their relationships.   Colleen McCarty 13:01 In September ish of 1995, April goes shopping for a car. She winds up at Don Carlton Acura of Tulsa. This is at about 47th and memorial. She meets with the sales guy and ends up leasing an Acura Integra. On her second or third visit to the dealership, April sees Terry for the first time in passing. We actually spoke to one of the jurors on the case recently who noted it was revealed at trial that Terry actually had a policy in the workplace.   Juror 13:29 And that is there was one of the salesmen from the car dealership who testified that the guys on the floor were instructed to bring any pretty girls in to visit him if they were single, pretty, looking for a car. And so she was really like in a flytrap.   Colleen McCarty 13:51 He doesn't speak to her. But we can only assume he noticed her because she begins to get phone calls from him on the number she had left with the salesman. Terry calls her, presenting himself as the owner of the dealership. He pretends to be following up about the lease of her vehicle. But April could tell it was more than that, and that he was interested in dating her and she began looking forward to the calls. Quote, "I remember thinking that he was attractive and charming. He seemed real. Beautiful smile, you know? And all it was, was 'This is Terry, this is April. Hello.' And we shook hands. But I remember those were my first impressions of him based on that," end quote. On one of her last visits to the dealership, Terry takes her to lunch to find out if she's interested in him. She was. She wanted to keep seeing him and perhaps go on a date. Later that week, she went over to Terry's house for drinks.   Leslie Briggs 14:44 Their first real date was on a private plane to Dallas to visit Terry's friend Robert Martin. They met up with several friends and stayed at Martin's place in Dallas for the weekend. Terry paid for a limo to drive the group around town to go to some nightclubs and some restaurants. April admitted she'd never went on a date like that before, and it made her feel special. April and Terry fell for each other fast. He acted like a total gentleman during those early months. He took her to Jamaica and then on Christmas Eve of 1995, he proposed. He gave April a $25,000 engagement ring and they set the date to marry in April of 1996, just eight months after meeting for the first time.   Colleen McCarty 15:22 Here's Hunter on his early memories of Terry.   Hunter 15:27 He's the kind of guy that like will buy you whatever you want, you know? But I remember he bought me a little, like, tiny - tiny person guitar, like, for children with an acoustic. It was pretty cool. I didn't know how to play the guitar. But any toy I wanted, he could do that because he had the money. He just would just buy you stuff.   Leslie Briggs 15:48 The couple traveled to Dallas frequently after that Christmas and to the Bahamas. However, April remembers after the engagement that things began to change. She saw big areas of incompatibility with Terry and it was ultimately her decision not to go through with the wedding. April said, quote, "I began to see unpredictable fits of anger. I went from being nothing wrong, and being on a pedestal to where he would become very critical of me and everything I did. Not always, not always just times." To April, she could see the charming, affable person that Terry could be, but also saw that he was battling himself a lot of the time. He was unpredictable, angry for no real reason. And he seemed to be looking for things to get onto her about.   Colleen McCarty 16:37 During this time, April had majority custody of her son, Hunter. His father, Eric, would take him every other weekend, so April would only see Terry during those weekends when Hunter was with his dad. And, she would sometimes see Terry on weeknights, but not as often. The first time Terry hurt April was on her birthday, April 25, 1996. The month their wedding was supposed to have occurred. April remembers they were fighting verbally, but she can't remember what it was about. Then all of a sudden, Terry became enraged and he flew at her with his hands out reaching for her neck. He grabbed her throat and started squeezing. April ran from the house back home to Brookside. By the time she got there, her house one was already ringing. It was Terry. "I can't believe that happened. I'm not like that. It's your birthday. Let's start over." April accepted the apology and saw him again that night.   Leslie Briggs 17:32 The next major incident that April remembers is a harrowing event that happened in Amsterdam. April and Terry were on a two-week vacation, just the two of them, for the first week in Amsterdam, and then the second week in Paris. On the second to last day in Amsterdam, April was sleeping in. Around 10am, Terry began yelling at April to get out of bed. She was not getting up fast enough for Terry. She said she began crying and saying that she couldn't do anything right. Terry had been very critical during the time that they were traveling and he was on edge. He came around to her side of the bed and he hit her with his baseball cap. And she was stunned. He pushed her down on the bed and they began having sex with her very roughly. I think it's important to talk about this incident in terms of how sexual assault was viewed in the 90s. When April testifies at trial, she speaks in terms of "I didn't say yes, but I didn't say no. I was crying the whole time. And it hurt." Terry kept going for almost five minutes until he finished, then he slammed around the hotel room and left. The rest of the trip was uneventful, but April was an emotional wreck. It was the first time anyone had ever done anything like that to her.   Colleen McCarty 18:47 April and Terry have gone to an on-again, off-again status during this time. The engagement was on when they went to Rome in November of 1996. But there was no wedding date set. April kept thinking Terry would get better, that he would be the charming man she'd met just a year prior. Terry frequently got invited on trips with Tulsa-area media because of the amount of money the dealerships spent on marketing - both print and TV news. The Rome trip was one of those. They went with what was then called Great Empire broadcasting, or KVOO. Terry asked April to accompany him to Rome, and their hotel overlooked the Vatican. There hadn't been any violent incidents with Terry since the early summer, and April felt that the worst of their relationship was behind them. They traveled to Rome with Terry's parents and a few other community business owners. One of them, a car dealer from Wichita named Steve Hatchet. Once they got there, April realized that Terry had brought cocaine. Up until this period, April did not know that Terry did hard drugs. On one of the first days in Rome, Terry convinced April to try cocaine with him. She tried it and had a bad reaction. That night in the hotel room, Terry was trying to sleep. April could not sleep, due to her reaction to the drugs. They had just gotten back from a day trip to Sorento, and everyone had been drinking heavily. She just couldn't sleep. She wanted to call her son, Hunter. Terry was awoken by April on the phone and he flew into a rage. Terry told April that everyone on the trip saw how she was, that his parents thought she was rude and unbecoming. He made sure she knew everyone noticed that she didn't belong there. Terry hated that April had talked to a college friend who was on the trip about things they had in common. In fact, that friend was Michelle Hardesty. Miss Hardesty now runs the Hardesty Family Foundation in Tulsa, which focuses on efforts to provide addiction treatment. She's a major funder of 12&12, where April would later escape in 1998.   Leslie Briggs 20:54 The thing is, Terry had felt excluded. And he was in a rage. Terry attacked April on the bed saying "All right, bitch, this is Italy. They don't look at wife beating the same way they do in America. I can do whatever I want to you over here." He began pouncing on her, putting his elbow in her eye socket and punching her in the sides. He twisted her arms behind her and that's when someone began pounding on the hotel room door. It was Steve Hatchet, one of the other people on the trip. April got up and ran to lock herself in the bathroom. She could hear Steve say "Terry, I know all about you. Come out and fight someone your own size." After this incident, April stayed in their room, and Terry went to stay in his father's room. They didn't see much of each other for the rest of the trip. Steve Hatchet would later testify at trial that quote, "I put my arm in between the door so he couldn't close it. He was very, very emotional. I was mad at him and he was mad at me." Hatchet told the court he could hear the sounds of someone being hit from the room next door. When April got back to the US, she attempted to file a protective order against Terry using the police report she made in Rome. She hired then-attorney Claire Egan. At this time, Claire Egan was an attorney at a major firm here in Tulsa called Hall Estill. But in the early 2000s, Claire Egan would be appointed as a federal magistrate judge. And now today, Judge Egan is a United States District Court judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma. You can see Egan's affidavit of her representation of April in the show notes, as well as what she felt went wrong at trial April calls Terry as soon as they returned from Italy. She records this phone call. Here is that recording.   April Wilkens 22:11 But I don't understand what drives you to the point where, like you said, you want to strangle live and shit out of me.   Terry Carlton 22:18 Well, if you're intereted I'll tell yah. When you do things that you know will piss me off, you do them on purpose. You know, to me, that's provoking somebody. You know, I took you to Europe, you know? I was in bed. We had an argument and I did the right thing. I got up and I left and I removed myself from it.   April Wilkens 23:04 But you hit me as you went -   Terry Carlton 23:06 Oh that was an accident I did not mean to -   April Wilkens 23:08 You didn't mean to flilp me with your napkin and shove and push me aside   Terry Carlton 23:13 Just tryin' to leave... So, you know, then, I'm in bed. So what do you do? Instead of trying to make the situation better by just going to bed, you know? You deliberately aggravate the situation becuase you do something that you know is going to really piss me off. And that is a wake me up call - calling Hunter and talking to Hunter knowing that you're going to keep me up when all I want to do is go to bed, April.   April Wilkens 23:47 Do you not see how maybe it's a little drastic to pounce on someone and choke them and throw them out on their ass - threaten to throw them out on their ass naked? You know? I mean, does that not seem a little drastic and - and -   Terry Carlton 24:01 Yes, you're right it is drastic and I admitted it.   April Wilkens 24:06 I just don't understand the need for physical violence.   Terry Carlton 24:09 I see. So it's okay for you to do - to pull out the stops, and do everything that you can do to piss me off but, you know, as soon as I, you know, react in the same way and pull out the stops and do the things that I can do to hurt you, what's the difference, April? You know, what's the difference? You're fucking with me, I'm fucking with you. You understand? You know, that's the big fucking lie that if, you know, it's okay to do whatever the fuck you want to but it's not okay for me to do whatever I feel like doing. I lose my temper - you lose your temper. You're mad at me. So you fuck with me. You bust my balls and you try to egg - egg - egg on the fight aggravate me. And play some good ol' head games. But, then, whenever I, just, you know, I lose my temper and I go to throw you outside the room naked - Oh that's when you started resisting but... Is one any better than the other? I mean, seems like you think it's okay to do those things. I mean, that's what you're telling me, "Oh well I suppose we all fuck with each other every once in a while but -   April Wilkens 25:16 and choke me   Terry Carlton 25:41 you broke the rule, you went over the - you stepped over the line. You got physical, and you're gonna have to do something" - I'm not, I'm not satified with this. Because what you're gonna do is go to a victim's group, okay, and you're all gonna sit there and tell each other how it's not your fault that this happened to you to pat each other on the back and feel sorry for each other and, you know, it's gonna be what a bastard I am. Okay? You're not gonna be any working on your own problem. If I didn't do the violence - if the violence thing, you know, was not even a factor - you would still do those things because that's your way of controlling.   April Wilkens 26:19 I mean, I don't remember hearing "April, I raped you. I know that must have really upset you and I'm sorry." Or "April, I know that I, you know, slammed you against the ground and I know that must have been really dramatic for you and I'm sorry."   Terry Carlton 26:35 I've said those things. I've said those things. You just want toto hear them over and over again... I'll apologize once but I'm not going to sit there and just have to apologize every fucking day in my life. You either accept the apology or you don't. Sounds to me like you don't.   April Wilkens 26:53 Do you think the alcohol or the drugs or anything like that have anything to do with it?   Terry Carlton 27:03 Well I'm sure that, I mean, yeah, it has something to do with it. But I don't remember taking any drugs so I don't know. But the alcohol is an inhibitor so it makes you do things that you normally wouldn't do, without seducing [inaudible]. But mainly the thing is the inhibitors allow myself - I don't know, it's a complicated thing but I think mainly these things build up. They build up, these things build up inside. You know what I'm saying?   It just builds and builds till it's explosive.   April Wilkens 27:38 Yeah. But when you said, you know, "Hey, this is Europe and I can do what I want to here," I just thought that was kinda scary, like, premeditated or something.   Terry Carlton 27:51 Yeah. [Inaudible] It was just meant to scare you...So dramatic, you know, I just get the feeling that all this is on me and that I'm just this horrible fucking mutant that. You don't think about my feelings. Like today and tonight you haven't thought about my feelings. What about - I wasn't ready to talk about this, huh? What about my feelings? My feelings count for nothing with you and until they do all this just bullshit. So, goodbye.   Leslie Briggs 28:36 For reasons we still don't understand that tape never made it into the trial. The jury never got to hear it.   Colleen McCarty 28:42 During this time after they returned, Terry begins to tell April that he's suffering from severe depression and that he's suicidal. In retrospect, it looks like this was a way to keep April from going through with the protective order. April takes him to her doctor, Dr. Teter, for treatment. April is a helper. She wants to heal people. It was her chosen profession. When Terry begins to seem sick and needy, she is triggered to come take care of him. This occurs during December of 1996. We can see a pattern forming but we can also see some escalation. The pattern is very typical of domestic violence relationships. There's a honeymoon period, then an abuse incident. And then apologies and neediness. The extraordinary thing about April and Terry's relationship is how documented and witnessed it is. In most cases like this. There's no evidence to support the abuse because it was so covert. However, that is not the case with this couple.   Terry Carlton 28:42 So let's jump now to Valentine's Day of 1997. Terry calls April to tell her that he has a Valentine's gift for her and at this time, they're still in an on-again, off-again phase. She stops by Terry's house with Hunter, her son, to grab the gift. The couple had been trying to work things out after Terry was getting treatment from Dr. Teter. April goes upstairs and she can tell that Terry is on the phone with his ex girlfriend Melinda Wallace. April had told Terry previously that she thinks it's rude and inconsiderate to have Melinda call him while April's at his house. She's upset about this and she turns to leave. She hears Terry drop the phone and come after her. She turns around and throws the water in her hand in his face. This whole time, they're on the second floor and Hunter is downstairs. He's about six, maybe seven, at the time. Terry charges at April, grabs her, pins her to the bedroom floor by the shoulders. She was twisting to get away and screaming and she could hear Hunter coming up the stairs towards them. April remembers being shocked by Terry's strength because he had recently been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, getting treatment from Dr. Tedder for this condition. Terry is spewing vile threats at April and berating her. However, when Terry hears Hunter coming up the stairs he stops and he gets up. April calls 911 from Terry's house to report the incident. And, as she's about to leave the house, the police arrive.   Colleen McCarty 31:04 The summer of 1997 is chaotic. April and Terry are on and off. She learns that Terry is taking IV drugs, mostly methamphetamine. He has his housekeeper bring the drugs and leave them in a bedroom drawer where he would leave the cash. April remembers that he would sometimes spend $2,000 a day on drugs. And that's in 1998 dollars, as Lesley likes to say.   Leslie Briggs 31:29 Ddjusted for inflation, that's about $3,500 today.   Colleen McCarty 31:32 At this point, April gives Terry an ultimatum. It's the drugs or me. Unequivocally, Terry chooses the drugs. April's devastated, heartbroken. She cannot psychologically understand how someone could choose a drug that hurts them and ruins their life over someone that loves them. No one would believe April that Terry was using again. So several times during the summer, April steals syringes from Terry's house to show his parents or the police. She was trying to get him some help or stage some kind of intervention. These efforts go absolutely nowhere. We haven't talked much about this, but April's been running her business that she inherited from her parents, Schneider orthotics. She's struggling from the trauma and the constant issues with Terry and her business starts to go downhill. She begins to get loans from Terry and ask for his business advice. This is ultimately what pulls her back in to begin spending more time with him.   Leslie Briggs 32:34 So now we're in August of 1997. And April is at one of her lowest points yet. Terry had taken a lot of pictures of April and him having sex and April in various compromising positions, pictures of her body. He was threatening her to release them if she ever left him. This was also in 1998 and, not that releasing nudes or revenge porn is in any way acceptable today, but the concept of nudes and the concept of ownership over your body and having naked pictures of yourself, I think that dynamic is, at least I would argue, starting to change a little bit in society. It's really not the case in 1998. I mean, this would absolutely positively ruin her. Perhaps that's still true today, but it's just different in 1998. You don't have the same sense of I can take this photo, delete this photo, share it with whoever I want. After wondering for so long what Terry found in the drug, she agrees to use methamphetamine with him for the first time. After they used, Terry left the house and April was staying with him. When he comes home, he flies into a rage, yelling in April that she had stolen one of his guitar necks. Terry was a guitar collector and he liked to rebuild vintage guitars. This was a very rare guitar neck that he was screaming at April about having stolen. Now April was actually supposed to leave Terry's house to go pick up Hunter for her weekend with him. Instead, Terry held her in his house at gunpoint all weekend. He told her if she produced the guitar neck, she would just get a beating. But if she didn't produce it, he was going to kill her. Throughout the weekend he raped, her beat her, and continued to just spin out about this guitar neck.   Colleen McCarty 34:11 He told her he wanted to be compensated. So he forced her to write a $7,000 check. That's money she didn't have. Later in the week, his housekeeper finds the guitar neck. Terry ended up allowing April to stop payment on the check and the check was not introduced at trial. The craziest thing about this altercation is that Terry called the police on April for stealing. When the police arrived, she reported to them that he had been holding her hostage with a Glock pistol and had raped her all weekend. The police told her she wasn't making sense and she needed to go home. She said she didn't feel safe at home. And the officers told her that it's not their job to babysit her.   Leslie Briggs 35:12 So this episode has taken us from April's childhood in Kellyville all the way up to August of 1997. To date, Terry had raped and beaten April on several occasions with no formative police action and no consequences. We see Terry's violence escalate and escalate as he's not held accountable again and again. He begins to become obsessed with April. And the thought that he's above the law next week on panic button, we'll talk about the incident that causes Terry to fall over the edge into extreme violence, stalking, compulsive breaking and entering and the incident that precipitates the four months leading up to the shooting.   Colleen McCarty 35:50 Panic Button is a co-production of Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law injustice and Leslie Briggs. We're your hosts Colleen McCarty.   Leslie Briggs 36:01 and Leslie Briggs.   Colleen McCarty 36:02 Our theme music is velvet rope by GYOM. The production team is Leslie Briggs and Rusty Rowe. We recorded at Bison and Bean Studio in Tulsa. Special thanks to Lynn Worley, Amanda Ross, and Ashlyn Faulkner for their work on this case. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. ...  

Tuesday Jun 28, 2022

Terry Carlton is found shot dead in his basement in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When the police arrive, his long-time on-again-off-again fiance, April Wilkens, answers the door. "I shot him, he's in the basement," she says. But this wasn't exactly an open and shut case. Terry had raped April mere hours before the shooting. It was while he was violating her that he said he was going to kill her and twisted her neck to break it. During the life and death struggle for her life, April knows she had no options--it wasn't a feeling, she had no options. In 1999, Wilkens was tried by the state of Oklahoma and sentenced by a jury to LIFE. She's now 51-years-old, and 25 years into her sentence. Panic Button is the untold story of the escalating cycles of abuse that led to Terry Carlton's death, and the unthinkable ways survivors of violence get chewed up and spit out by Oklahoma's justice system. In this first episode, attorneys Colleen McCarty and Leslie Briggs tell the story of the night of the murder, the facts in the record, and April's testimony from the stand at trial.  Resources: Detailed Timeline of Events in April's Case: https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/2022/02/12/timeline-of-events/ Sign the Change.org petition to support April's release: https://www.change.org/p/oklahoma-pardon-parole-board-commute-the-life-sentence-of-abuse-survivor-april-wilkens?signed=true See pictures of April's and Terry's houses now and watch a video of host Colleen McCarty driving from April's to Terry's so you can see how close they lived at the time of the murder. https://okappleseed.org/episode-1-show-notes Donate to keep our work going!: neappleseed.org/okappleseed Learn more about Oklahoma Appleseed: okappleseed.org If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. You can also search for a local domestic violence shelter at www.domesticshelters.org/. If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656-HOPE. Have questions about consent? Take a look at this guide from RAINN at www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent. Learn more about criminalized survival at www.survivedandpunishedny.org/. Learn more about the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act at www.nysda.org/page/DVSJA. Follow the #freeaprilwilkens campaign on Instagram at @freeaprilwilkens, and on their webpage at https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/. Colleen McCarty is one of the hosts, executive director of Oklahoma Appleseed, and producer.  Leslie Briggs is the other host who is a civil rights and immigration attorney, and producer. Additional audio production by Rusty Rowe. Support from Amanda Ross and Ashlyn Faulkner. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Gyom.  Panic Button is created in partnership with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Leslie Briggs. Follow OK Appleseed on Twitter and Instagram at @ok_appleseed. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our Panic Button podcast community on Bookclubz at bit.ly/3NRHO8C.   Transcript:  Before we get started, a content warning: this episode contains accounts of domestic and sexual violence. April Wilkens is a middle aged grandmother who would risk everything if it meant keeping her son Hunter from harm. She's a pacifist, a vegan, and she weighs 105 pounds. She's a health nut, leads Five K's in her spare time. In the early morning hours of April 28, 1998. She changed the course of her life and Hunter's life forever. And she did it to protect him and to save her own life. In 1998, Tulsa was a small-to-midsize city in the Midwest. It dots the northeast corner of Oklahoma. Scorching hot in the summers, below freezing in the winters,  this city in the heart of tornado alley is often known as a city of dualities. Tulsa is largely sustained by the oil and airline industries with some other large-scale manufacturers across the landscape. It's not exactly the kind of place you could leave your doors unlocked in 1998, but go 20 minutes in either direction and you'd find yourself in cow country. The city is largely sprawled across several miles, and public transportation is abysmal. So, most people have to buy and own cars. This will become important shortly. When officer Laura Fadem, a patrol officer for the Tulsa police department, received a radio call to 2272 East 38th Street in Tulsa around 9am on April 28, 1998, she was not sure what to expect. Officer Fadem had been called to the residence several times before. All of them had been domestic violence calls. But this call was different. The radio code indicated it was a shooting call. She arrived at the scene to find two other officers already present. She saw movement in the house and the front door was opened by none other than April Wilkens. Remember the vegan grandmother we mentioned earlier? Yes, her. But at this time, she was a 28-year-old single mother who had just survived the most harrowing night of her life. Like, I knew that I was gonna die. You know? I had made - I just like - I was gonna die - and I did - I just knew I was gonna die. Like, you just get to the point. Okay, as long as my son is safe with his dad, you know? "I shot him. He's in the basement," April tells the officers at the door to officers go down into the basement. Officer Fadem stays with April. April tells officer Fadem that she came to the house on 38th Street to make peace. She wanted to make peace with a man who had made her life a living hell for the last three years, whom she had once loved. The man who lay dead in the basement, Terry Carlton. April keeps talking. She tells officer Fadem everything she can remember, all the while waiting for the other officers to return. April tells officer Fadem in a fast talking, high pitched voice that Terry had a box of douche in the bathroom. He had raped her violently with a gun to her head and then forced her to douche so there would be no evidence of his semen. She told officer Fadem that she would find the box in the upstairs bathroom trashcan. April says she was fighting for her life and she shot Terry eight times. She covered his body and held his hand. The other two officers return and remind officer Fadem to read April her Miranda Rights. Officer Fadem describes April as very excitable, quote, "She was excitable but yet she was somewhat you know, calm and was answering all the questions that were asked of her", end quote and April goes on. The officers who went down to the basement found a grisly scene. They're syringes littering the basement, drug residue and paraphernalia surround them. They find a loaded gun on the back of the rec room couch, ther are handcuffs covered in han - hand sanitizer, and there, in the center of the room, is Terry Carlton's body. A subsequent search of the basement revealed five hand grenades which later had to be destroyed by the Tulsa police department Bomb Squad. April has a bruise on her face. Her bike pants are ripped from where Terry yanked them down in order to rape her at gunpoint. Officer Fadem later testified that April told her that she wasn't sorry it happened. She felt like it was the right thing to do. But she wasn't upset that it happened. In truth, April's mind was reeling partly from the adrenaline and partly from the psychotropic drugs that had been administered less than 24 hours before in the mental institution where the police had had her involuntarily committed. "I was a basket case," April admits from the warden's conference area Mabel Bassett prison almost 25 years later. April thought the fight for her life was over that night. She maintained one shred of hope that the system that had failed her over and over again, would this time finally understand what she had been going through and afford her mercy. In fact, the system that abandoned April for three years prior begins to churn into motion. Because for all the times it failed to arrest and prosecute Terry Carlton, it only took one time for the system to arrest and prosecute April Wilkens for first-degree murder. This is Panic Button. I'm Colleen McCarty.  And I'm Leslie Briggs.  Chapter One: the shooting. This is a different kind of true crime story. This is the one where the woman survives against all odds. This is the one that wakes me up at night sweating. This is the one where the usual heroes we come to count on - the hardworking beat cops and the homicide detectives who always get it right -are nowhere to be found. This is the one where the system fails you so many times. And then for extra measure the system commits you and calls you psychotic, all while you're fighting for your life. This is the recurring nightmare you have where you're screaming as hard as you can. But no sound is coming out. I'm an attorney. I've been working in Oklahoma on criminal justice reform for four years. I've helped to commute over 100 low level drug crime sentences and worked on criminal legal legislation. I'm also an attorney. I spent the last few years working on federal civil rights litigation, mostly on the employment side of things. But I also got to witness a few cases of extreme police misconduct. Both of us work to uncover and justices in the system. In every case, there's a journey to uncover the truth, the truth should always be the goal. But in April's case, we see the truth obscured again, and again, by power, money in a midsize city's small town justice system. There was no combination to the lock of safety for April, she could not crack the code. Instead, the system cracked her. And she's the one - she's the one who has to pay the ultimate price. Sure, she may have been a battered woman, but she made the choice to pull the trigger. Sure, she may have been raped over and over and over, stocked to the point of not being able to return to her home. But she made the choice to go to Terry's that night. She knew what she was getting into.  April's story will piss you off. It will wake you up. It will show you that even when you will do whatever it takes to survive, you will be shoved into another system where all your greatest fears, loss of freedom and control, surveillance, fear and violence are your everyday reality... The problem with a story like this is it's hard to know where to begin. There are a lot of twists and turns and rabbit holes. We want to take you down all of them but we want to avoid giving you tinfoil hat vibes. Sometimes, in order to understand what happened to April, you have to understand what was going on with the Carltons, what was going on in Tulsa, and the reality that April lived every day after she met Terry in September of 1995. We're going to start in the middle of the story and begin on April 27, 1998 - two days after April's 27th birthday. It's 2pm. And April has just been dropped off at a substance use program in Tulsa after serving two weeks of involuntary commitment at Eastern State Hospital in Vinita. She breaks out and runs from the program hitchhiking back to her house in the Brookside neighborhood of Tulsa. When she gets there, she finds her home totally destroyed. April hasn't been home in a little over two weeks. But there are sticky notes all over the house with disturbing and threatening messages. The only one that April can remember now is one that says, "April, It's been real." After April went to jail, her mom and her sister Mary had the unfortunate task of cleaning up her house. Here's Mary's description of what they found. They had made like bed on the floor with - with blankets and pillows and towels and - but everything was soiled. It was just disgusted. I've never seen anything like it my life. I mean, I had to ask mom "What has gone on here?" And my mom looked at me she says "I don't even want to know." You could not use the bed the bed was that soiled and that destroyed.  And it was - you believe it was semen?  Yes.  Ah. And um -  I don't know that for fact. You'd have, you know - But I don't know what else it could have been. I mean, it was just it was awful. She didn't have any pets. And I just know I've never seen anything like that in my life.  Yeah.  Never had I seen her home like that before, in the few times that I had been in it. Yeah, April didn't do this. I'm like, "I can't imagine her allowing this." My mother was a clean fiend. Absolutely. She felt dirty. She'd been abused as a child. And - and she was just - it was ridiculous how clean our home always was. And so April and I tended to be the same way and I'd never been in April's home when it wasn't immaculate. So this was just - I said, "What happened here?" That's all I kept saying. How could this have - I just couldn't - you couldn't, you know, I couldn't get over it. I'd never seen anything like that in my life. It didn't - I don't want to ever again. Alcohol bottles everywhere. Joints - ends of joints. Syringes. It was - this stuff was everywhere. When April described the home to us, she told us that it looked like Terry had poured liquid all over the floor and the furniture inside her house. Here's Mary's take on that. It looked like at the least urine. But I would - I would have thought it looked like semen. It didn't look like any liquid I've ever seen other than - Yeah.  And I should - maybe, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it was something else.Did it seem like - It looked like urine or semen. It didn't look like anything else other than that to me. We didn't touch any of that. We just didn't. I just - mom said "Be careful. Anything you touched for - for needles and stuff." We just collected her clothing so she - and pictures and things like that so she wouldn't lose everything. ...April's house has been ransacked. She's missing clothing and electronics and various other pieces of personal property. And April is scared. She knows who did this. She doesn't know what to do about it. She can't call the police, partly because she has in the past and it has never helped the situation. Partly because she literally can't. Her phone lines were cut a few weeks earlier by the same person who destroyed her home and took her stuff. April leaves the house as quickly as she can. She goes walking around Brookside and Riverside for hours. Eventually she stops at the Blue Rose Cafe and tries to page her friend Luke Draffin. He doesn't answer and doesn't call back. She eats fries, drinks a coke and she's out of there and a little under an hour. She keeps walking, trying to clear her head. But then dusk comes on. And April heads back to her house, which is, of course, still a very frightening scene. So, April changes clothes, puts on running pants, a biking vest and top and grabs her rollerblades. She rollerblades to her neighbour's, the Hugheses. And she visits with them for about an hour and a half to two hours, catching up on the neighborhood and trying to figure out if things have been relatively quiet, or if there have been more disturbances at her house. That's right, because leading up to the night of April 28, there had been a lot of disturbing things going on in and around April's home. Exactly. And we're going to get into each of those horrifying incidents throughout this podcast. But, so, April visits her neighbors and uses her phone, tries to page Luke again, no answer. She calls her friend Shannon Broyles and asks her to contact an ex-boyfriend, a former police officer, to see if he can help her get a guard dog. She's with the Hugheses until about 10pm. And after that she just rollerblades around for hours. She rollerblades back to the Blue Rose Cafe about midnight, has a pop, and watches the band for about an hour. She tries to page Luke again. He doesn't answer. She keeps rollerblading.Eventually, according to April, a cab passes by and asks her if she wants a ride. She accepts and asks the cab to take her to Luke's hotel. She has a key to his room, and she doesn't feel safe at home. It's dark. April remembers it being very dark, the middle of the night. She goes to Luke's Hotel, which is at about 11th and Mingo. He had previously given her a key. Even though she had a key, she didn't want to be rude and simply go up to his room. So she asks the front desk to page him. And they do. He won't see her. We're going to learn later - and Luke draft and actually testifies at trial - that Terry Carlton had offered him $5,000 to stay away from April at this point. There's also some question about whether or not Luke had been given Terry's Harley Davidson motorcycle, which April had heard that he'd been driving around town.  Yeah, we're gonna learn just exactly what fucked up lengths this person is willing to go to to isolate and control April. But in any event, Luke refuses to talk to April or see her. She's upset. April will tell you that at that point, Luke was the only person who made her feel safe when dealing with her abusive ex, Terry.So, Luke. He's so integral to the story. I met him late summer, fall-ish or I dont know somewhere '97 in there. And he had told me as I get - got to know him that, um, because we - he told me that he was married - previously married - to someone that I grew up's with relative. A relative of someone I grew up with, Ed Willingham, the Undersheriff, for Creek County. He told he about what's been going on with Terry and that's when he's telling me his history in law enforcement. He said that him and Ed worked together a lot. And him knowing people I knew, and being married to Ed's - one of Ed's relatives and have kids with him - like that, to me was this is my hometown people, that sort of thing. And so this was - this was just a familiarity for me. He just seemed to carry - carry his own. Like Terry - and even Terry wouldn't mess with me. He didn't really know him, but, and it was just the way that Luke carried himself. So that's the story with Luke and that's why I really gravitated towards Luke and he was like, you know, hay man, I do all this work in law enforcement, I can - I'll help you, I can help you. And now Luke won't even talk to her. She goes outside, throws her backpack on the hood of his car and puts his hotel key on the visor. According to the testimony of Officer Jane Masek, someone anonymously reported a disturbance of a woman beating up a car in the hotel parking lot. But when the officer arrives on the scene, no disturbance and no woman, Officer Masek is leaving. She comes upon April rollerblading in the dark. April flags her down and asks for a ride home. Officer Masek runs for information in the case there are any warrants. No warrants come back, but April's record of police reports comes up. She's been a person of interest before, which means, basically, that she's made reports. So Masek knows that April has been involved in an increasing number of domestic violence calls leading up to this night, although Masek testifies later that she can't remember what came back on April's warrants and records check. In any event,  Officer Masek gives April a ride back to her house. It's about 2am at this point. It's 2am April 28, 1998 and April Wilkens takes off her rollerblades and puts on her tennis shoes. She leaves her house and walks about a mile towards Lewis up to 38th to make peace with her tormentor. When she gets to the home on 38th St., she knocks on the door and Terry Carlton abuser, intravenous drug addict - Son of Don Carlton of Don Carlton Honda fame -  More on that later - Terry answers the door, gun in hand. So there's April, in her athletic gear, up almost 24 hours straight, having just been released from involuntary commitment in a mental institution. She'd had french fries and a coke for dinner after walking all afternoon and rollerblading most of the night. And there's Terry, April's longtime abuser, with gun in hand. Immediately when April interest his home, he starts trying to get her to go upstairs where the bedrooms are. She resists and they go downstairs into his basement, which is like an entertainment area. There's couches, guitars and drug paraphernalia. A lot of syringes. He also had a bunch of April's stolen stuff, which she noticed was missing when she got back home from the drug abuse center earlier in the afternoon.Right, he had all of her belongings strewn about his basement rec room, totally unafraid to be caught with a stolen goods. And April tries to laugh this off. It's totally bizarre but she's trying to keep the - envi - the mood, light and cordial. She wants Terry in a good mood so she can make peace with him move on with her life. All April wanted when she went over that night was to make peace with Terry and have some kind of resolution so that she could live her life safely and without being stalked, harassed or threatened. Right. That's unfortunately not at all how this night plays out. Everything leading to this moment has been one violent escalation after another. And we promise we're gonna break all of that down for you guys on this podcast. But in the early morning hours of April 28th, everything is about to get much, much worse. So now, April and Terry are in the basement lounge. Terry has April's stolen goods all over the place, and his tone and demeanor begin to shift from cordial to short-tempered. I think it's important to remind everyone here that even though you don't have all the details of their history together, this shift in demeanor is something that April has experienced a lot in the past. Right. She knew what this shift meant. She knew how quickly things could escalate if she did not tread lightly, and at this point, Terry becomes insistent that they do drugs together. As we've mentioned, Terry is a drug addict. April has been abusing drugs. Despite what's about to unfold, she tests negative for any substances once the police arrive. So April tries to resist taking the drugs. She rebuffs Terry's insistence. This of course agitates him. April can tell he's beginning to lose his temper. So, she relents. She convinces him to let her mix her own methamphetamine, and she makes a weak solution - makes it as weak as possible. They shoot up meth. It's about 5am now, and Terry is getting more and more agitated. And April asks to use the bathroom to get away from him for a moment so he can cool off. She goes to the upstairs to the second floor, bypassing a bathroom on the first floor. And that fact is going to become a bit of a piece of contention when we get to the trial. There's a lot of contention at trial. At this point, Terry was agitated, short-tempered, but not making direct threats toward April. All that changes when she opens the bathroom door. She opens the door on the second floor and there's Terry with a 22 in hand. Terry tells April, he's tired of waiting around on her and that she's never going to come around. He has the gun pointed at April and he's blocking her exit to the stairs. He tells her that she "owes him a fuck." And he's going to take it. He drags and pushes April to the bedroom. So there's going to be a discussion of rape here in some detail. And we just want to give you a little extra warning if you want to skip forward a bit. But at this point, April is terrified. Terry is trying to get April to commit to being with him if he will agree to go to drug rehab again. April cannot and will not make any further commitments to Terry. Not after three years of increasingly violent abuse. Terry pushes April onto the bed. At first he puts the gun on the nightstand and then he changes his mind, places it on the bed within his reach next to her head. Terry tells April he's gonna rape her and then kill her. He rips her shoes off and throws them across the room. He's trying to rip her pants off but he can't get them off all the way. They remain stuck around her ankles. They're running pants that have these little zippers. He lifts her shirt up and he begins to physically assault April. He penetrates her digitally and then he vaginally rapes her. He tells her she is "going to be a dead bitch." And as she begged him not to, she asked him to go ahead and kill her so that she won't have to feel him raping her. He begins to beat her about the head and body. This is important because Terry had never beaten April on the face or the head before. In fact, he tries to break her neck by snapping it he's doing all this while he's still penetrating her. And that's when he said, you know, "You're dead bitch" and he tried to break my neck. Right. Tried to break my neck, punched me in the head. Tried to break my neck and then I got so angry and that's when I started you know asking him how can you stand to be inside someone, you know that - or, how can you be inside someone that can't stand, you know, can't stand having you inside? How can you get an erection? I can't wrap my head around this I - you know - I didn't say all that, but.  Yeah.  Couldn't wrap head around it - like how? You know? It is disgusting to me. How can you even be excited? Right. And then that just made it worse. It's where you think it's never going to end. And, um.  Woo, yeah. And she is in so much pain. She asks him to just stop so she can get to a point where it's not as painful and he can take his fuck, and she can pretend to enjoy it. She starts asking him: How can he really enjoy this knowing that she isn't interested in having sex with him at all? She's never had the courage to speak to him like that. It works. He stops, he starts to masturbate. He can't finish.April, pulls her clothes back into place. She's decided she's gonna convince him to go down for bed - to lay down - so she can sneak out. He won't let her put her shoes on. She asks and he says he doesn't want her to run. He lays down in bed. He gets back up. Down, up - over and over until he decides he's going to go back down to the basement with her. He's trying to get her to do more drugs. This time, heroin. She's refusing. He's getting angry. He makes his a concoction of heroin and meth and demands April shoot up from this mixture. April's never done heroin before and tonight isn't the night she wants to start. April manages to squirt her syringe out on the ground, pretending to shoot up while Terry is having trouble finding a vein. Terry is spinning out. He makes April clean syringes for him so he can try a new syringe in the vein. While Terry is struggling to shoot up his mixture April asks to use the phone. And to her surprise, Terry lets her. She goes upstairs to call for help. But she doesn't call the police. And you're going to learn why throughout the course of this podcast, but for now, you just need to know that anytime the police got involved, it always made Terry more violent afterward. So she's upstairs. She sees the gun from her earlier rape and Terry's police scanner. She gathers up some money, Terry's credit cards, the gun, the scanner, his keys, and the garage door opener. Remember, it's the 90s in April doesn't have any money or wallet on her. If she's going to flag a cab or get a hotel to hide, she's going to need some money. April's frantically trying to prepare a bag so that she can escape. That is the ultimate goal. She remembers the gun in the top dresser drawer and she grabs it and sticks it in her back pocket of her biking vest, right in the small of her back. When asked leader at trial why she grabbed the gun she stated, quote, "My first instinct was so that he couldn't use it on me. And secondly, to be able to protect myself you know?" End quote. She's listening intently to Terry's movements in this old house. You can hear every creek and step he makes. She's packing her son's camera case with cash cards and keys. Then she puts the camera case in a backpack and sets it by the back door. She quietly creaks open the back door so that it won't make any noise when Terry ultimately goes to lay down. April knows from experience that Terry is faster than her and she knows that he can catch her if she just breaks for a run. She knows this because he has chased her and caught her by the hair and dragged her back inside. This was witnessed by April's - both April's neighbor Glenda McCarley, and Terry's neighbor, Dr. Laughlin. She is afraid to make a run for it due to her past experiences. April goes back to the basement, still waiting for Terry to lie down so she can escape. And suddenly without warning he barrels back downstairs frantic. April's sitting in a chair sterilizing syringes as Terry had asked her to do. He burst into the room and he handcuffs her with her hands in front. And he says "Bitch, where's the gun?" And he jerks her out of her seat and begins to pat her down on the sides for the gun. Internally April is panicking because she knows if he finds it, she's dead. Terry doesn't find the gun on her, quote, "He told me he couldn't trust me - that he didn't believe that I didn't have the gun. He said he was going to kill me. But first he was going to rape me up the ass. Then, he was taking me to the couch." End quote. For some reason, Terry forgets what he's doing for a second and he lets April go. Her mind is racing. She knows when he goes to sodomized her, he's going to find the gun. He briefly turns back to her continuing toward the couch. While he's turned, she twists her handcuffed arms back and is able to grab the handle of the gun. She wasn't sure if she could reach it. And she wanted to see but also she was restrained and terrified for her life. Terry turns around and he sees April with the gun. He becomes consumed with rage. He was incredulous that she would have the gun and he lunges at her. April shoots Terry within three feet range. She shoots until she empties the clip. After the first shot, she's she later remembers that - or she thinks, anyway - that Terry shouted out "I'm paralyzed, call an ambulance." But she keeps shooting. This is how her dad taught her. She grew up - and we'll talk about this in later episodes -but she grew up in Kellyville. She grew up around guns and she knew how to shoot. Her father taught her if you're shooting to protect yourself, you always empty the clip. In the spring of 1999, a year after the shooting, April was tried by the state of Oklahoma. The case is called state of Oklahoma versus April Rose Wilkens. The state, the district attorney, represents us, the people of Oklahoma. After her trial, a jury convicted April of murder in the first degree. Premeditated, malice of forethought murder is what we call it here in Oklahoma. The only sentencing choices were life or life without parole. It was left up to the jury and they chose a life sentence for April. She was transferred to Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, Oklahoma's only maximum security women's prison.We visited April for the first time - the first of what I hope are many visits - a little over a week ago. Mabel Bassett is about an hour and a half from April's old house at 35th and Quincy in Tulsa. During April's testimony at her trial, her attorney asked her "Did you feel like you had any options at that point when you fired the gun?" "I had no options. It wasn't a feeling. I had no options." That's April's response. Her attorney says "Why didn't you?" April testifies, "My only option was to risk my own life and safety again in the chance that he wouldn't kill me. And that wasn't an option. That wasn't an option. I didn't even think about it." So what should she have done, lived or died? Those were her choices. I'm sure the people on the jury felt there was another option - that April should have just left. She should have left Terry, left her home, left her city, and left her son. The people of the jury had never been abused, chased, stalked, threatened, raped, or made to feel powerless. They had never been dragged back inside by their hair. They had never been abused as children or if they had they didn't disclose it during voir dire. They didn't have all the information. But we do. Thanks to the tireless efforts of April's nice Amanda, who was a librarian, we have access to all the court documents, all the police reports, and all the evidence that wasn't heard at trial. This season on Panic Button, can money buy you a murder conviction? Could April have been an intelligent woman who also made extremely complicated choices that put her life in danger? Could April have been a traumatized abuse victim and a mental patient and still have been smart enough to plot a premeditated murder? Can we look at the mistakes of our past and reckon with the injustices of a sexist cruel justice system? Has our understanding of domestic violence changed enough to accept that 25 years is long enough to serve on a crime for which you were simply defending yourself? When power and money buy you everything the voices of those you've oppressed will eventually grow to a voluminous roar. We hope you'll listen as we take you through what happened to April, what happened to Terry, the trial, and the aftermath, and the 25 years since April has been sent to Mabel Bassett. Join us for season one of Panic Button. I'm Colleen McCarty. And I'm Leslie Briggs. Panic Button is a co-production of Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law injustice and Leslie Briggs. We're your hosts, Colleen McCarty and Leslie Briggs. Our theme music is Velvet Rope by Guillaume. The production team is Lesley Briggs with occasional help from Rusty Rowe. Special thanks to Lynn Worley, Amanda Ross and Ashlyn Faulkner for their work on this case. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, use a safe computer and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at OK_Appleseed across all social platforms. You can subscribe right now in the Apple podcasts app by clicking on our podcast logo and then clicking the subscribe button. If you want to continue the conversation with other listeners, please join our panic button podcast community on Book Clubs. Join for free at Bit.ly/3NRHO8C. Thank you so much for listening.

Thursday Jun 23, 2022

We’re telling the story of April and Terry’s relationship, the murder, the mistakes at trial, and we’re covering the evidence the jury never got to hear. This season on Panic Button. 

Wednesday Jun 22, 2022

A short ad for our new true-crime-advocacy podcast, Panic Button: The April Wilkens Case. Listen along as we tell April’s story, uncover evidence never heard at trial, and try to bring April home after 25 years in prison. 

Monday Jun 20, 2022

Attorneys Leslie Briggs and Colleen McCarty discuss what to expect on this season of Panic Button.

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Panic Button is sponsored by Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

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Panic Button is hosted by Tulsa civil rights and immigration attorney Leslie Briggs and OK Appleseed founder & attorney Colleen McCarty. Learn more about our other projects to improve Oklahoma at okappleseed.org.

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