- By W. Kevin Armstrong
OKJ2 – Oklahoma Journalists for Justice
Condemned murderer Michael Lee Wilson lay strapped to a gurney inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary’s death chamber Jan. 9 ready to release his final words before a cocktail of three drugs silenced him forever.
Eighteen years and 11 months after he and three others brutally beat to death store clerk Richard Yost in the predawn February hours at a north Tulsa QuikTrip, Wilson’s life ticked down to fewer than 100 seconds.
At precisely 6 p.m., the blinds rose on the four windows separating Wilson from the small audience gathered to witness his execution at the hands of the state of Oklahoma. Half of the two dozen brown metal folding chairs remained empty. Five of Wilson’s family members, three public officials and four members of the media occupied the other seats. Several members of Yost’s family sat shielded from Wilson’s view in another room where they could watch him die.
The four journalists readied their prison-issued spiral notebooks and pens to scribble Wilson’s last utterance.
Wilson, still wearing his eyeglasses, rose up slightly from the mobile bed to see who was there, pulling slightly on the tubes wired to his body through which the lethal injection would soon flow. The stocky 5-foot-6-inch man appeared at peace and lay back down, his face turned toward the dozen onlookers.
“I just want to say I love everybody,” the 38-year-old declared. “Free is free.”
Then came the words that resurrected a mystery in Oklahoma’s penal system.
Wilson’s reference seemed lost on some, if not most, of the witnesses. One person among the 12 admitted a short time after Wilson was declared dead at 6:06 p.m. that she thought Wilson had referred to Malcolm X.
No. Wilson clearly had said “Malcolm Scott and Demarco Carpenter.”
He used his final breaths to say the two Tulsa men were wrongfully convicted of killing a 19-year-old woman in a 1994 drive-by shooting in which Wilson had played a part but for which he had managed to escape responsibility. If Wilson had been charged with murder in the earlier crime, he might never have been free to mastermind the 1995 store robbery and murder of Yost five months later.
Scott and Carpenter, each 17 years old at the time of their convictions, remain locked in separate Oklahoma prisons serving life sentences plus 170 years. They continue to maintain their innocence 19 years later. Wilson’s deathbed proclamation Thursday night is the latest in a series of sworn statements by witnesses who claim police, prosecutors, a jury and judge erred in pinning a murder on Scott and Carpenter
All of this has come to light in the years following the 1995 jury trial in which both men say they were unfairly railroaded through the court system and lost their lives in all but the physical sense.
The first murder
Karen Summers lost her life on Sept. 10, 1994, while attending a party of teens and young adults mingling inside and outside a house on East 29th Street North. She was 19.
News reports say she was sitting on the hood of a parked car around 2:30 a.m. when multiple shots were fired from a passing car. Summers was struck in the back with a fatal shot. Two males standing on the lawn also were hit by the gunfire, but their wounds were not life-threatening.
Several hours later, police arrested Scott. They also recovered gun casings at the scene and questioned Wilson the next day. Wilson said the ammunition was his but that he was not present at the crime scene and did not fire the gun. Wilson pointed police to Carpenter, saying he was responsible for the shooting
In a sworn affidavit, Carpenter gives a much different account, providing an alibi of his whereabouts that evening:
“At approximately 7:00 P.M. September 9, 1994, myself and Malcolm Scott were riding in his tan colored Grand Prix when we were stopped by the Tulsa Police Department. Malcolm had warrants so he was taken to jail. I was released to the custody of my mother and her boyfriend, Dwight Wallace. She took me home and told me I couldn’t go anywhere else that night.”
Carpenter said two females and his brother came to the house around midnight and they talked on the front porch for an hour. He then told the others he wanted to go to a store a few blocks away to get something to eat. Carpenter first asked his mother for permission. She urged him to be quick.
As they were preparing to get into a car owned by one of the females, Scott came riding up on his bicycle and asked if could hop in and go with them, Carpenter said.
Carpenter explained he was the only one in the car who went into the store. The others waited outside. When Carpenter exited the store, he spotted Wilson getting out of another car with a limp. Carpenter asked Wilson what was wrong with his leg?
“He told me that some Crips had shot him a few days ago while he was on the porch of one of his associate’s house in Turley and that he was going to get them back,” Carpenter said.
“While I was talkin’ to Mike, the back window on the driver’s side came down and Richard Harjo stuck his head out the window and said, ‘What’s poppin?’ and I told him, ‘I was just chillin.’ I also noticed Billy Alverson on the passenger’s side, and we exchanged head nods with each other. I then told Mike I had to roll, so we parted ways.”
Carpenter said he and his friends then drove back to his house, arriving around 1:30 a.m. The two females left after dropping them off. Carpenter said he, his brother and Scott sat on the porch for another hour until a different female arrived to talk to Scott. By 3 a.m., everyone left, and Carpenter said he went to bed.
Later that day, police arrested Carpenter, Scott and Wilson. The district attorney filed first-degree murder charges against Carpenter, Scott and Wilson. A short time later, Wilson’s charges were dropped to being an accessory to the murder.
Carpenter said in his affidavit that before going to trial, he ran into Alverson in the Tulsa County jail.
“I then asked him did he know what I was in jail for and he put his head down and said it wasn’t supposed to go down like that. … He didn’t mean for us to get caught up on something they had done and that they were only trying to get the Crips who shot Mike in the leg.”
Carpenter said he asked Alverson to set the record straight by having their lawyers get in touch. Carpenter said, however, his public defender never called Alverson to the stand nor some of the females who were at his house the night the crime occurred.
Meanwhile, Wilson pleaded guilty to being an accessory Nov. 23, 1994, in the Summers’ death. He was released on bond.
The second murder
Richard Yost, 30, didn’t realize that he would say goodbye to his wife and two sons for the last time when he left for work Feb. 25, 1995. He was a clerk at the QuikTrip on North Garnett Road at Admiral Drive.
News accounts say that Wilson also worked at the convenience store and knew Yost. He came into the store in the early morning hours of Feb. 26 with three friends: Alverson, Harjo and Darwin Brown.
According to court testimony, Yost was dragged to the back of the store, handcuffed and bound at the ankles. The men used an aluminum baseball bat to beat him over the head, killing him. Testimony and surveillance cameras at the store showed how Wilson manned the counter during and after the murder, waiting on customers.
Yost’s body was discovered in the walk-in cooler by a customer around 6 a.m. after the customer found nobody working there and went searching through the store.
Police said the perpetrators stole the store’s safe, videotape from the surveillance camera and cash in the drawer. They were arrested later that day after having used some of the money to purchase new tennis shoes.
QuikTrip offered counseling to hundreds of its employees afterward because of the crime and its brutality.
Police had strong evidence against all four defendants, especially from the videotape. All four were convicted of murder in 1997. Wilson was 19 at the time of the crime, Alverson was 24 and Brown was 18. All three received the death penalty. Harjo received life in prison without parole; he was only 16 when Yost was murdered.
Brown was executed Jan. 22, 2009. Alverson was put to death Jan. 6, 2011. Wilson became the last of the three on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Harjo remains incarcerated at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
That was not, however, the last word on Carpenter and Scott.
The unheard testimony
About 11 months before Alverson was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection, he penned a sworn statement from prison saying Carpenter and Scott were not involved with Summers’ murder. He asked them to forgive him for not speaking out sooner.
Alverson echoed that plea in a short note on Jan. 5, 2011, less than 24 hours before his execution.
“Humbly I ask for your forgiveness for taking so long in this,” Alverson wrote. “I’m sorry.”
In the first note, dated Feb. 27, 2010, Alverson gave this account about what happened the night Summers was killed in 1994:
“After returning and then leaving that home on North Elgin, I was driving a car rented by Micheal L. Wilson with Richard Harjo in (the) front passenger (seat) and Wilson in back. We were headed up towards Cincinnati when the lights shined on a crowd in the street.
“Wilson noticed who they were and said that these were the dudes who tried to shoot him and as we were driving passed, Wilson rolled down the back driver’s window, pulled a gun he had hidden and began to fire, so I sped away. As soon as I could, (I) drove Wilson to the house where he stayed. Harjo and I got out of the car, walking away leaving Wilson.
“I didn’t find out who the people were until Wilson was jailed for the shooting. Before his trial I had a conversation with Carpenter (and) told him to call me as (a) witness, and I would tell the court they were not involved, but I was never called.”
That account agrees with a sworn statement Harjo gave Aug. 22, 2001:
“I know who actually shot and killed Karen Summers and wounded Kenneth Price and Alonzo Johnson due to the fact I was an eyewitness. Two people who had nothing to do with the crime were charged an(d) erroneously convicted of.
“I have been reluctant to come forward with this information due to threats on my life. Nonetheless, I’ve been transferred from O.S.P. to a private prison. Therefore I’m able to submit this sworn affidavit.
“On or about Sep. 24, between 2:00 am and 2:30 am in retaliation for being shot himself, Micheal Wilson shot into a crowd of people from the backseat on the driver’s side of his burgundy Ford rental car with his 380 caliber handgun at a houseparty down the street from my sister Jennifer Harjo(‘s) house.
“I thought it was strange at the time that he got into the back seat of his car until I seen what he did and then realized why.”
Carpenter believes such testimony should exonerate him and Scott from the murder charges. In an Oct. 29, 2013, letter to OKJ2 – Oklahoma Journalists for Justice, Carpenter said, “My fingerprints nor was Malcolm Scott’s fingerprints found in or on the car or gun that was recovered from Mike Wilson’s home.
“My public defender, Steve Sewell, failed to subpoena key witness(es) in my defense in which I believe would have resulted in us being exonerated,” Carpenter wrote.
One more piece of evidence Carpenter now uses to proclaim his innocence is an affidavit signed June 24, 2010, by Price, one of the two men shot at the house party where Summers died.
“For sixteen years, I have lived with a guilty conscience and after reading about all of the corruption with the Tulsa Police Department and false testimony against individuals, I felt compelled to come forward and do what is right,” Price wrote.
“I was pressured into getting on the stand by officers of the TPD to testify that I got shot in the buttocks and to point out De’Marco Carpenter and Malcolm Scott as the culprits who committed the shooting,” Price said. “I got shot in the buttocks so it is obvious that my back was toward the action. I initially told officers I didn’t see anything and I didn’t know who did the shooting.
“After several interviews with several officers, I was told that De’Marco Carpenter and Malcolm Scott were the shooters and I just needed to point them out when the time came. I don’t know if they did it because I didn’t see anything, but I did testify and say what officers told me to say just as I was told.”
Price concludes his sworn statement with an apology:
“I can’t rewind time, so I have to live with what I did. I can’t give De’Marco Carpenter or Malcolm Scott the years back that they have spent in prison, but I hope freedom won’t elude them any longer. Only God can judge me.”
Appealing for help
Carpenter has failed to convince prosecutors or judges that he and Scott are innocent, but he won’t give up.
Carpenter has written to dozens of celebrities, appealing to them for help. The list includes professional athletes such as Lebron James, Tom Brady and Kevin Durant; film stars Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock; and television personalities Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil and Nancy Grace. He also has written to President Barack Obama. None, however, has responded.
Last summer he turned to social media with the help of his sister, Lametra Carpenter, and the Oklahoma Messages Project, an effort sponsored by the Redeeming the Family nonprofit organization. The Oklahoma-based charity records video messages of inmates and shares them with family members, typically the children of those incarcerated.
Demarco Carpenter has no children so instead his sister posted the two videos on YouTube. One debuted last June, and the other in December. They are titled “Tulsa man fighting for his innocence.”
In the videos, which range from 2 to 4 minutes long, Carpenter pleads for someone to come to his aid.
“I’m in prison for a murder I didn’t do,” Carpenter says from behind a glass window and bars. “I don’t belong here, and I don’t want to be here. Someone please help me in this situation. I need help.”
The closest Carpenter has come is the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. Members twice have approved his parole – once in 2009 and another in 2012 – but both times the governor has denied the requests. He and Scott will next get consideration in 2015.
On Jan. 9, Tulsa District Attorney Tim Harris was seated outside the execution chamber where he watched Wilson die. He heard Wilson proclaim Carpenter’s and Scott’s innocence, but it didn’t seem to register.
About 30 minutes following Wilson’s death, Harris was asked by a reporter about Wilson mentioning the names in his final statement. He said they were not familiar to him. Harris then walked across the media center and grabbed a legal notepad from his briefcase to write down the names. “I’ll have to check on those tomorrow,” Harris said.
On Jan. 10, Harris was asked again about Carpenter and Scott by another reporter, this one from the Tulsa World. In a prepared response to the newspaper that was published in the Jan. 11 edition, Harris said:
“The State of Oklahoma holds the opinion that Mr. Wilson’s pre-execution statement is nothing more than his last ditch effort to try and save his co-defendants, who are prison inmates, just like himself, from suffering the punishment they duly deserve for the crimes they committed and were righteously convicted of.”
Carpenter has heard that response before, including from Harris.
In his letter to OKJ2 in October, Carpenter cited Harris’ objections before the parole board in his case.
“I understand Tim Harris’ position but I’m innocent of this crime and I did write Mr. Harris a few years ago because I wanted him to get a bit of an understanding of where my frame of mind is at,” Carpenter said.
“I believe the D.A. doesn’t want to swallow a pill and admit that they let a killer, Mike Wilson, walk free because he killed again.”