Prosecutor vows justice already has been served in 1994 drive-by shooting
By W. Kevin Armstrong and Hannah Covington
Attorneys for one of two Tulsa men serving life sentences for a 1994 murder have filed a petition with the Tulsa County District Court claiming to have new evidence that the two defendants were wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit.
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, however, said he welcomes the opportunity to show that justice already has been served in the state’s case against Malcolm N. Scott and Demarco M. Carpenter.
“We will be fighting this extremely (hard) and with all that we can muster because I’m not going to let these criminals succeed,” Harris told OKJ2 – Oklahoma Journalists for Justice in a phone interview Feb. 22. “We will file our written response to their motion and ask that the motion be quashed or overruled.”
Harris believes these efforts almost two decades after the crime are nothing more than former gang members looking out for one another when they have nothing left to lose.
“It’s all gang members, done to support other gang members,” Harris said. “And you know they choose allegiance amongst themselves even above and beyond their blood family, and so it doesn’t surprise me.”
A jury found Scott and Carpenter guilty of murdering 19-year-old Karen Summers and wounding two male by-standers in a drive-by shooting Sept. 10, 1994, in north Tulsa. Scott and Carpenter each received life sentences plus 170 years.
The shooting occurred around 2:30 a.m. at a house party where members of the Hoover Crips gang and friends were gathered at a house in the 200 block of East 29th North Avenue. According to police and witness testimony, Scott and Carpenter were members of the rival Red Mob Bloods gang.
Attorneys with the Oklahoma Innocence Project contend the crime involved gang members seeking revenge against the Crips, but it was three other Bloods in the car from which the shots were fired – not Scott and Carpenter.
Those attorneys, Tiffany Murphy and Christina Green, filed their petition Feb. 21 for post-conviction relief on behalf of Scott, who has remained behind bars for more than 19 years. The court documents state that Scott is “innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. Newly discovered evidence, not previously presented, has been found that destroys the validity of the State’s conviction and proves Mr. Scott was in no way, shape, or form involved in the crime.”
Murphy said Carpenter’s attorney, Ken Sue Doerfel of Lawton, plans to file a similar petition asking that her client be released.
Doerfel is representing Carpenter and coordinating those efforts with Murphy and Green of the Oklahoma Innocence Project, which is housed at the Oklahoma City University School of Law. Murphy, Green and their law school students have been investigating since August 2011 the convictions of Scott and Carpenter. “I believe they’re both innocent,” Murphy said in a phone interview Feb. 22.
The Innocence Project has gathered videotaped confessions and written statements from the three men who they contend actually committed the drive-by shooting – Michael Lee Wilson, Billy Alverson and Richard Harjo. They also point to affidavits from the state’s two key eyewitnesses at the house party – Kenneth Price and Rashun Williams – who in recent years have recanted their testimonies in the November 1995 trial.
“(The eyewitnesses) now assert they were coerced by the Tulsa Police Department,” the court petition states. “Finally, forensic lab reports show Mr. Scott’s fingerprints were not found on any of the very limited pieces of physical evidence connected with the crime, which included both the car and the gun found in Mr. Wilson’s possession.”
The petition also charges that several constitutional violations occurred in the prosecution: that the Tulsa district attorney’s office failed to disclose the original statements of witnesses and that the Tulsa Police Department engaged in several instances of misconduct to elicit incriminating statements from the witnesses.
Harris said the Innocence Project “does good work, and we need a watchdog over the system, but they’re getting snookered in my opinion. And for them to come at a case like this where there isn’t any scientific evidence, it’s testimony from prior convicted felons. The case law says it’s so suspect and it’s so potentially perjurous that the courts do not look in favor at all.
“It smacks of criminals working the system to their advantage,” Harris added.
Confessions and changing stories
Allegations of Scott and Carpenter being wrongly convicted have been made for several years.
Alverson, for example, signed a written statement in February 2010 saying he was in the car with Wilson and Harjo and that Wilson fired the shots that killed Summers and wounded two others. Alverson also wrote that neither Scott nor Carpenter was involved. Alverson followed that statement with another note in January 2011, the day before he was executed by the state for another murder.
More recently, Wilson was executed for his role in the same murder case involving Alverson. They and a third co-defendant, Darwin Brown, each received the death penalty for the fatal beating of QuikTrip convenience store clerk Richard Yost in February 1995.
On Jan. 9 of this year, Wilson stated during the minute before he died by lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary that “Malcolm Scott and Demarco Carpenter are innocent.”
Harris was present to watch the 6 p.m. execution, along with a representative of OKJ2 who asked Harris immediately afterward about the case. Harris, who was elected district attorney in 1998, said he didn’t recall the case involving Scott and Carpenter but that we would look it up the next day.
Neither Harris nor OKJs at the time knew that the Oklahoma Innocence Project had obtained permission from Wilson’s attorney to conduct a videotape interview with Wilson 48 hours before his death. Murphy, who did not attend the execution, says Wilson’s attorney had refused OIP’s repeated requests to interview Wilson but changed that stance as the execution drew near.
Murphy interviewed Wilson about the Summers’ murder for about 15 minutes on Jan. 7. It was recorded on video. Wilson stated repeatedly that neither Scott nor Carpenter had anything to do with the drive-by shooting in 1994. Wilson was brought in by police for questioning a day or two after the shooting and eventually charged several weeks later with being an accessory, saying he provided the gun and bullets used in the shooting but didn’t fire them.
Wilson said he couldn’t believe, even 19 years later, that he got away with the murder.
“It kind of blew me away that I got caught with a gun and they just let me go,” Wilson said. “They didn’t arrest me for possession of a firearm or anything.
“I don’t know how my name got brought to the police’s attention, but all I know is I had a murder weapon on me and they let me go.”
Wilson said in the videotape that several nights before the Sept. 10 shooting of Summers, he had been shot by a rival gang. “So I went out looking for revenge.” That’s when Wilson, Alverson and Harjo stumbled upon the house party, which was near Harjo’s sister’s house, he said.
“I wasn’t trying to shoot Karen Summers,” said Wilson, who was 19 and the same age as Summers at the time. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Wilson said that he never told anyone during the investigation or on a witness stand that Scott or Carpenter shot Summers or anyone else at the party. Instead, he just let the police believe what they wanted so he didn’t have to take the blame. “They let me go,” he said repeatedly during the videotaped confession.
“I know it’s kind of late in the fact, but I want to make sure I make this right,” Wilson said. “Even in my final statement when I go up there, I’m going to mention this, too,” referring to his execution.
“That’s going to probably be one of the first things I’m going to say is, ‘Demarco Carpenter and Malcolm Scott is innocent. They didn’t do this crime. … They don’t belong in jail.”
Harris said he doesn’t believe Wilson and thought his final words in the execution chamber seemed suspiciously scripted, especially since five of his family members were seated on the front row to witness his death.
“I knew something was up,” Harris said, “when Mr. Wilson didn’t even recognize his mother, uncle and sister at his execution, and the first thing he did was say, ‘Is the mic on?’ and they said ‘yes,’ and he said that those two guys were innocent. That was so odd that hey, in a moment, you’re going to be dead here bud, and what’s the first thing you do? He chooses to protect his gang buddies.”
Harris said it’s all too convenient that Wilson confessed to the murder in the manner he did.
“The Innocence Project, did they share that interview with me before the execution,” Harris said, “so that we could do any further investigation? No. So I don’t think they come forth with a lot of integrity because if they had a piece of evidence they thought was exculpatory, why did they sit on it until this guy gets executed? So you know, he gets his statement and then he takes it to the grave so to speak.”
Only one person remains alive who admits to being in the car when the drive-by shooting occurred. That’s Harjo, who remains in the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington. He is serving a life without parole sentence for his role in the Yost murder. He did not receive the death penalty because he was only 16 years old at the time of the QuikTrip crime.
The Oklahoma Innocence Project says no police reports exist showing that detectives working the Summers murder case ever questioned Harjo about the drive-by shooting.
Seven years later, in August 2001, Harjo signed a sworn affidavit saying he was in the car when “Michael 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 house party down the street from my sister Jennifer Harjo’s house.”
Harjo also stated, “Two people who had nothing to do with the crime were charged and erroneously convicted of.”
Harris said it’s more of the same: gang members trying to protect each other.
“Richard Harjo, who’s doing a life without parole for beating Mr. Yost to death over 50 times, now he says he’s got a different story,” Harris said. “It’s kind of like they’re just all trying to protect each other and exonerate each other because Harjo is going to breathe his last breath in custody. Wilson is dead, and now these other criminals are recanting.”
Reflecting on the past
Scott, now 36, has continued to maintain his innocence since the crime. He and Carpenter were only 17 years old at the time. Scott is incarcerated in a Lexington prison. Carpenter, now 37, is being held at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing.
Scott wrote a letter Oct. 14, 2013, to OKJ2 that said:
“I was arrested on Sept. 11th, 1994 questioned (interrogated) by police for several hours, charged and processed into Tulsa County Jail. The police never checked my hands for any gunpowder residue. I was never caught with any physical evidence to link me to this crime. My entire case against me was based on witness testimony.
“… All the evidence found was in possession of Michael Wilson. Wilson even admitted to being shot by these gang of men previously a couple days before the crime I’m incarcerated on was committed. All evidence was pointed directly to Michael Wilson, even the smokin’ gun and motive!
“… Neither Carpenter or I ever even touched this gun or ever drove or rode in that car. No fingerprints or anything connected either of us to the evidence. Only the word of Wilson and the two men Williams and Price who were also locked in Tulsa Co. Jail charged with serious violent crimes themselves.”
Scott admitted in the letter that he was affiliated with a gang in Tulsa when he was a teenager, growing up with 12 siblings. “For me it was an escape from my abusive father and poverty,” he said. “I admit I was not a saint as a kid, but I swear to you I am not a murderer.”
Scott wrote, “I never looked at myself as this monster or menace to society that the prosecution portrayed me to be at trial. I just made some mistakes and bad decisions as a teenager, which put me in a vulnerable position to be used by the prosecution and T.P.D. as an example and a scape goat to appease the community. The T.P.D. made some crucial errors in this case which should have exposed the truth and freed me, but someone had to be prosecuted for the crime. So there I was, the perfect pawn to cover their major blunders, which cost me and my co-defendant our life and liberty.”
Several jurors who in 1995 convicted Scott and Carpenter of the murder and shootings told OKJ2 in recent interviews that they felt the defendants were guilty but wrestled with the sentencing.
Jurors began their deliberations Nov. 9, 1995, at 4:11 p.m., according to the trial transcript, and reached their verdict at 1:35 a.m. Nov. 10.
“It was long and grueling,” juror Susan Burden recalled. The courts were scheduled to be closed the next day for Veterans Day and a three-day weekend, so jurors worked late into the night to arrive at a verdict.
“I was scared to death,” she added about serving on a jury for a murder trial. She said she thought it was unusual that prosecutors brought in witnesses from jail to testify.
What stands out most for her was a baby in the courtroom. She and other jurors believed it to be the child of murder victim Karen Summers. The 18-month-old was present in the courtroom through much of the trial.
“I just remember that and thought it was heartbreaking,” Burden said. “That was really hard to see that, and I think that was a ploy to get some more sympathy or something. We knew it was a baby who had lost its mother.” She added that jurors discussed the baby during their deliberations.
Burden said there was disagreement among jurors over what the punishment should be once they found Scott and Carpenter guilty.
“We felt that they were guilty, but we didn’t have all the information anyway, so it’s a good thing we didn’t put them to death,” Burden said.
Juror Anthony Nigro also recalled that “most of us were on the same page” with regard to the guilty verdict. “I don’t think there was any doubt. I think most of the deliberation was over the sentencing.”
Jurors wanted to make sure they got it right, Nigro added. “I think we understood how serious it was.”
“Half of the witnesses were in prison already, from what I can remember,” Nigro said. “And they had taken them out of prison, and I think they kept changing their stories around.
“I felt based on all the evidence, or at least that I heard, I felt they were guilty. I think everyone else did, too. It was a tough decision because they were young kids. So when you’re making that kind of decision, you want to hope you got it right. You don’t want to send two young kids to prison for life if they didn’t do it.”