By Ron Lee
Oklahoma City, OK – In the last issue of the US~Observer we covered the Oklahoma case of Ryan
Wonderly who had been charged, forced to plea, and was sentenced to and is currently serving 35 years for allegedly committing 23 counts of lewd acts, including rape by instrumentation with minor girls who were part of his children’s ministry at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene. Ryan Wonderly, still fearful of his safety, sits in prison awaiting his day of vindication, but according to the Oklahoma State Courts Network (OSCN) web site there has been no update on his case since May 11, 2006. The US~Observer finds this highly disturbing as there was to have been a filing of sentence modification in June of ’06 and we fear that Mr. Wonderly’s day of justice is still several battles away.
There are so many questions in Wonderly’s case that should it have been taken all the way through trial, the jury would have been privy to so much information it would have been almost impossible for them to say that there was no reasonable doubt, but this isn’t the way justice is served-up in Oklahoma City by Judge Twyla Mason Gray. It has been brought to the attention of the US~Observer by even more individuals who feel they have been damaged by Judge Gray’s tactic to coerce many defendants in the criminal cases she over-sees (as a supposed impartial judge) – especially in sex abuse related cases – by telling them that she thinks they are guilty and that she will give them a harsher sentence should they not take a plea deal, exactly as what happened with Wonderly.
In a 2004 interview with Albert Alschuler, a professor of law and criminology, by PBS’s FRONTLINE Alschuler was asked if plea bargaining connects to justice. His response, “Plea bargaining has nothing to do with justice. It has to do with convenience, expediency, making the life of prosecutors and defense attorneys easier and more profitable. It’s designed to avoid finding out the truth. It’s designed to avoid hearing the defendant’s story. I mean, what’s a more basic component of justice than if you’re going to lock somebody up, you ought to hear whatever he has to say in his defense first? Isn’t that the most basic element of procedural justice? If you have something to say, if you have a story to tell, we want to hear it. We don’t want to punish you unless we’re convinced that you’ve done something wrong. …”
Perhaps Judge Gray isn’t interested in justice when she seeks to silence these charged individuals by forcing them to take a plea. Wonderly is one of the many that have faced this sort of judicial behavior and found himself in jail for something he still maintains he is innocent of. While Judge Gray’s tactics are reprehensible so, too, is the behavior of the defense attorneys who bow to this pressure and represent to their clients that this may be what is best. For if it wasn’t for them, the truly innocent would perhaps be granted their rightful ruling of “not guilty” in the due process of a jury trial, but then again, where is the money in that?
There are, however, rumors that Judge Gray along with Wonderly’s lawyer John Coyle III are being investigated by the Oklahoma State Bar for undisclosed improprieties of law, but this was neither confirmed nor denied by State Bar Investigators who failed to respond. Should this rumored investigation be true and the outcome find that Judge Gray and others acted inappropriately, it would go a long way toward helping Wonderly achieve what he is rightfully due, his day in court.
But that is only one of Wonderly’s possible victories. Recently it was the US~Observer’s honor to speak with David Prater who is running against the current OKC District Attorney Wes Lane for that position. From a biography on Prater’s web site, “Whether serving on the front lines as a police officer or seeking justice as a public prosecutor, David Prater has dedicated over eighteen years to fighting crime and protecting Oklahomans.
David began his law enforcement career at 19 years of age when he was hired by the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office as a Deputy Sheriff. At the age of 20, Prater became the youngest cadet ever to graduate from the Norman Police Academy. During his time with the NPD, Prater was a dedicated and respected Master Police Officer. In addition to his patrol duties, David was a member of NPD’s Tactical Unit, Underwater Rescue and Recovery Team and the Norman Police Department’s Pistol Team. Additionally, Prater was responsible for training other officers in patrol techniques, firearms, and Emergency Vehicle Operations and was awarded more than 20 commendations from Norman’s Chief of Police.
In 1988, Prater left the police department to complete his Law Enforcement Administration Degree from the University of Oklahoma. In 1991, Prater began law school at the University of Oklahoma, graduating in just two and a half years. From 1993 until 2001, Prater served Oklahoma County and the state as an Assistant District Attorney under Bob Macy and as an Assistant Attorney General, in the Grand Jury Unit, under Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
During the last four years, Prater has maintained a private law practice in Oklahoma City, with the firm of Huddleston, Pike, Henderson, Cusack & Parker.”
When asked during the conversation if there was any recourse for Wonderly if he were to be elected District Attorney he stated, “If someone was to introduce a case to me, I’d be willing to look into it and go over all of the records … It’s not just about prosecuting current cases but making sure justice has been had in all.” While he made no claims to be able to help Wonderly, he is a man who is committed to ensuring the integrity of the system. A system that by many accounts is currently broken.
Editor’s Note: We will continue to monitor Ryan Wonderly’s case and pursue his vindication. Please log on to usobserver.com to read the first story on Ryan Wonderly.