Sloppy and Suspicious in Oklahoma

July 21, 2010

Jeffrey David Matthews was slated for execution on June 17, 2010, for the 1994 murder of Otis Earl Short, his great uncle. Governor Brad Henry granted a reprieve until July 20, and then, last week, stayed the execution again until August 17, in order to allow the authorities more time to review fingerprint evidence – evidence that was discovered just 10 days before this first execution date.

From the start of the trial process, the conviction of Matthews has been controversial.  There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and the quality of the police investigation into the crime was, according to one former officer, “sloppy” and “suspicious.” There is also a star witness who has recanted his trial testimony. (Sound familiar?)

When Matthews was tried in 1995, Tracy Dyer testified against him, and the jury sentenced Matthews to death.  But a year later, in 1996, Dyer retracted his testimony, now denying that Matthews had been involved in the murder. Dyer admitted to his own role in the crime, and that an unnamed accomplice shot Earl Short. He stated that he had testified against Matthews in order to avoid a death sentence, and also that guards had beaten him in jail and threatened him with further violence or death if he did not cooperate in the case against Matthews. In the 1999 retrial, despite Dyer’s new testimony, Jeffrey Matthews was again convicted and sentenced to die.

But in 2007, Michael Mars, a former Deputy Sheriff involved in investigating the crime signed a sworn affidavit saying that “there is a reasonable likelihood that Matthews is innocent”.  He also backed up Dyer’s claims about threats and violence in prison, stating “I can attest that I have seen a detention deputy both physically and verbally abuse prisoners many times.”

Putting Jeffery Matthews to death would be a travesty.  Executive clemency exists to prevent miscarriages of justice that the courts fail to address.  After such a “sloppy” and “suspicious” investigation, and with such clear doubts about Matthews’ guilt, Governor Henry should grant clemency and commute the death sentence.