By Ron Lee
The US~Observer works as a tool for innocent victims of false prosecution. We are literally flooded with requests for assistance each month in many stages of prosecution and dozens from those already convicted. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Statistics has stated that there is an estimated 8 – 12% of factually or actually innocent inmates in state prisons, and from the research book entitled Harmful Error, “Since 1970, individual judges and appellate court panels cited prosecutorial misconduct as a factor when dismissing charges, reversing convictions or reducing sentences in over 2,000 cases. In another 500 cases, appellate judges offered opinions—either dissents or concurrences—in which they found the misconduct warranted a reversal. In thousands more, judges labeled prosecutorial behavior inappropriate, but upheld convictions using a doctrine called ‘harmless error.’’’ The US~Observer, from hands-on experience finds the number of false prosecutions to be at least double those listed above.
In cases such as that of Ryan Wonderly from Bethany, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, who was recently sentenced to a minimum 35 year prison term by what appears to be an outright forced *Alford Plea to 10 counts of Indecent or Lewd Acts with a Minor and 4 counts of Rape 1 by Instrumentation with a child, it is the perfect example of this “Harmful Error.” Wonderly’s case is rife with potential judicial misconduct, the complaining witnesses appear to “re-fabricate” their stories with each telling and one even recants her testimony to a friend. In the Wonderly case there appears to be a complete disregard for the rights of the accused – that he is innocent until proven guilty, and the US~Observer has accepted Ryan’s case and is moving forward.
The first step is the pre-investigation and board review. Beyond listening to the story of the convicted we amass the evidentiary documentation that led to their imprisonment. This generally comes in the form of all court related documentation such as pre-trial, trial and sentencing transcripts, and any and all witness affidavits and interviews. Such documentation either backs the claim of an unjust incarceration or shows the convicted to be using any means necessary to get out of their rightful punishment.
In cases that the US~Observer pre-investigation determines the individual to have been legitimately convicted, the case is immediately dropped during a board review. The US~Observer will not be used as a getaway vehicle for a guilty individual. This would not only tarnish the Observer’s reputation of being a justice seeking publication, it would simply be immoral. Unlike other media organizations that operate from behind a political agenda, the US~Observer finds it more beneficial to side with the truth, no matter what it may bring.
If the pre-investigation finds that the documentation supports the claim of justice system malfeasance and/or the evidence and/or witness testimony can easily be refuted, as was found in the Wonderly case, then the board elects to move forward and begin the in-depth investigation.
Investigations call upon many methods of discovery. In some cases this could be under-cover operations that take months to conclude, while other cases can be as simple as making one phone call to the right person who wants to do the right thing. In many investigations it’s digging through what seems to be endless hours of research at the local courthouse and fielding countless phone calls to the players involved.
As one of the US~Observer investigative reporters I was assigned the Wonderly case. According to police reports and witness testimony Ryan Wonderly, who was a youth pastor for Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Bethany, Oklahoma (during the time the crimes were purportedly perpetrated), allegedly committed 23 counts of lewd acts, including rape by instrumentation, with minor girls ranging in age from 8 to 12 who were part of his children’s ministry or had been introduced to him by someone from the church.
As part of the investigation I went back over all of our pre-investigative materials and supplied evidence, much of which showed flawed processes and witnesses who seemed all too willing to change their stories as time went by and they were questioned more. But still, even with all of the evidence showing that Ryan Wonderly got railroaded through the system, I landed in Oklahoma City under the assumption that he was guilty. The case for this reporter, as a father of a beautiful daughter, was clear-cut. He had to have done it. But such is the nature of crimes of these types. They beg of our emotions to believe the most trivial of accusations without further discovery and I was there to do just that, get to the bottom of it all regardless my personal feelings, so I set about finding as much as I could.
First off I spoke with Wonderly’s parents. They are a fine couple whose faith in their son is unwavering. They firmly believe their son was denied due process – even pressured into entering a plea by Judge Twyla Mason Gray (who is currently up for re-election), as they witnessed her telling their son that she thought he was guilty. According to the Wonderlys, Judge Gray so vehemently pursued his conviction that she even suggested he’d receive better treatment should he enter a plea rather than going through with the already underway trial. According to witnesses Gray said that the jury thought he was guilty and she thought he was guilty, so if convicted she’d see fit to sentence him to the maximum amount of time possible. Judge Gray offered Ryan Wonderly and his counsel 10 minutes to decide if he wanted to change his innocent plea.
*According to the State of Connecticut’s Common Legal Word Look-Up Web Site an Alford Plea is: A plea in a criminal case in which the defendant does not admit guilt, but agrees that the state has enough evidence against him or her to get a conviction. Allows the defendant to enter into a plea bargain with the state. If the judge accepts the Alford Plea, a guilty finding is made on the record.
The Wonderly’s said their son was confused and scared, and not wanting to face the maximum sentence the judge threw at him, not because he was guilty, but because he had just been told by the judge that the jury thought he was guilty. They said he felt that if he couldn’t get a fair trial it might just be better to take the plea and hope for the best. Ten minutes deciding his future was over quickly and Judge Gray allowed him an additional 10 minutes when the time expired. At his council’s urging he came back into court and changed his plea to that of the Alford plea.
One look at the evidence on both sides of the argument, which in Wonderly’s case was strictly witness testimony as there was never any physical evidence of wrong-doing, suggests that Wonderly should have stuck out his trial, regardless of the judges personal feelings toward the case. (One has to wonder the reasons why Judge Gray’s own court reporter says that they used to hear nothing but sex abuse cases. Perhaps there is validity to the claims made by several Oklahomans that Judge Gray had been abused by her Grandfather when she was a child and seeks payback against anyone accused of such a crime. And there is evidence in other cases of this nature where Gray was the presiding judge that she has used the same pressuring tactics to get the alleged criminal to change their plea.)
One thing is for sure; should anyone be faced with their own false prosecution, never, ever take a plea arrangement. This isn’t advice; it’s a statement of common sense. If you are innocent, maintain it always. Pleading to a crime makes it more difficult in further legal processes.
After talking with Wonderly’s parents I set about contacting several key witnesses and officials. The conversations I had with supporters of Wonderly painted a picture of the alleged victim’s as deceitful children and their parents as angst-filled who put pressure on other parents to make their children come forward with charges. These people had no reason to lie. They were people who knew and cared for all the families involved, knew their children and what they were capable of, and knew Wonderly, too, some extending their homes to Wonderly more so than any of the complainants. The investigating agencies and supporters of his conviction were less forthcoming and I was often met with disdain even broaching the subject.
Back at my hotel I siphoned through witness testimony. I kept being pulled back to several items the girls stated. They all said they hadn’t talked to one another about the case, but according to testimony most had been referred to the same counselor, Vikki Reynolds. They mentioned that they had seen each other there in her waiting room, but had never made contact with each other. According to court transcripts it was stated that the girls had been sent to Vikki Reynolds by the Care Center, a victims center that’s location is a highly guarded secret. But when talking with Vikki Reynolds she stated she knew nothing about the Care Center and then added that she doesn’t get referrals from them. Asking, then, what I was calling in regard to I started to pronounce his name and was quickly cut-off and told that she had no comment.
Even one alleged victim’s statement who suggested something happened in the living area at her own home while her mother was in the kitchen falls suspect as the kitchen adjoins the room and is not separated from it. The simple fact is, if anything happened her mother would have seen it, but the testimony made it appear that her mother was completely out of the room. Everyone who has been to that home knows the truth of the design layout.
There is also the fact that several of the accounts of what happened would have been physically impossible as some of Wonderly’s supporters have tried to simulate the testimony without success.
All of a sudden Wonderly’s intended defense during his trial started making sense. He had intended on showing that there was a conspiracy set in motion to charge him, and then convict him for something he never did. The fact is there are plenty of parents of children who attended Bethany First while Wonderly was a children’s pastor who will tell you that when the first “victim” came forward, her parents went ballistic. They called other parents threatening them saying they’d contact the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) if they didn’t turn Wonderly in for what he had done, that doing anything else would mean they didn’t care for their children. Soon, maybe not even intentionally, there was a witch-hunt in progress. As the allegations and pressure spread, more children stepped forward. But in looking into how most of the children came to be charging Wonderly for these crimes it’s clear it all stems from a contact between many of the alleged victims and/or contact between the parents of the “victims.”
Not to mention the one key fact that the second girl to leverage charges later told a friend Wonderly had never done anything to her. The friend of the alleged victim, who apparently spent more time alone with Wonderly than anyone else maintains that he never did anything inappropriate to her, nor anyone she saw him in contact with. So, believing the charges totally false and having witnessed the alleged victim’s admission that nothing had ever happened, she stepped forward with what she knew, sacrificing her friendships with all of the “alleged victims.” She was met with disdain by the prosecutors and was questioned by a social worker who was in direct contact with a prosecutor during her interview. She was asked repeatedly if anyone had asked her to say these things. The answer was simple. She just told the truth.
Of all of the documented evidence in regard to witness testimony, only girls who said Wonderly had never done anything to them were asked if someone had told them to say that. Never once was an accusing girl asked that. Not even after initial interviews where one “victim” states that it only happened one time, but in subsequent interviews it became an all-the-time occurrence; or even when it was stated under oath that they (the victims) had never talked to each other about the case, only to have them admit they did indeed talk. Still, no one asked them if they ever made-up or were told to say these things.
Subsequently, one of the accusers refused to testify, thereby negating the state’s charges against Wonderly in that case. As earlier stated, the only evidence was testimonial.
One key piece of testimony regarded an incident in Wonderly’s truck. The girl alleged that Wonderly touched her while she was sitting with him. Fortunately for Wonderly there was a witness who stated she was watching through a nearby window and never saw the girl get into the cab of the vehicle. Ultimately the jury never heard this testimony because the trial was cut short. There was speculation from Wonderly supporters that her closeness with some of the accusing families made her susceptible to their pressure as I was told that she might even recant her testimony. At the time of the investigation, she and her entire family were in Mexico and not scheduled back until sometime in June. There has not been a return phone call.
During the investigation I spent days at the Oklahoma County Courthouse where I became such a fixture that at the airport on my way out of town a gentleman I hadn’t remembered seeing pointed in my direction and said, “You’re the guy at the courthouse.”
“Yep … that’d be me.” I said with a smile and a wave.
I had arrived with my own personal feeling that Ryan Wonderly was guilty and having investigated the case I found enough evidence to conclude that it offered more than a reasonable doubt. While I can not say that Ryan Wonderly is truly innocent, I can say that he is a man who is loved by a great many people who trust him completely. That even the accusers wrote letters saying how they were going to miss him when he chose to quit the employment of the church, before any of these accusations came to be. I can say that the system let him down and Ryan Wonderly deserves his day in court and he doesn’t deserve to be in prison.
This case has shown me that sex abuse cases often rely on the basic feeling the accusation creates in all of us – that whoever has been charged must be guilty. The logic behind this feeling is instinctual, especially for parents. Keeping your children free from harm is a daunting task, and when another person allegedly preys on a child in this fashion there is no care of proof. The person is just guilty and you keep your children from them, no matter the evidence either way. This is why sex abuse cases are one of the only felony criminal proceedings where a person can be tried and convicted without there ever being one shred of physical evidence. People pointing fingers is all it takes. Unfortunately innocents get caught in the middle.
Wonderly has currently submitted a motion for sentence modification. This is being reviewed by none other than the presiding judge in his case, Judge Twyla Mason Gray.
Wonderly’s attorneys have asked for letters of support of Ryan to be sent to them:
“It will be very helpful to Ryan if many of his friends and family members write letters of support to the Judge.
The letters should be addressed to the Judge (Judge Twyla Mason Gray) but mailed to Coyle Law Firm to the attention of Nita Wright …”
Coyle Law Firm
Attn: Nita Wright
119 N. Robinson Suite 320
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I for one will be submitting my letter (this article); I will also be showing my opposition to Gray being reelected through a massive media blitz should she not do the right thing.
It’s time we got back to our fundamentals – a person is innocent, until PROVEN guilty – no matter our feelings. One thing that can be said about human feelings is that they are generally confused and often wrong.
As I returned to Oregon I realized this case was quickly beginning to resemble the infamous “Wenatchee Witch-hunts” conducted in Wenatchee, Washington in 1994-1995. During that prosecutorial frenzy 60 adults were arrested on 29,726 charges. Many who were convicted have since been freed by higher courts when it was found that the alleged victims were lying. The lives of many good people were ruined in the process of those false prosecutions, lives that will never be the same again…Could Ryan Wonderly’s case be yet another “Witch-hunt?”
The US~Observer is continuing to investigate Ryan Wonderly’s probable false charges as there is much more evidence to back his claim of innocence such as his psychological evaluation that he is not sexually stimulated by young girls and the gross misinterpretation of that review by the prosecution to the court.
We would ask anyone with information in regard to this case to contact Edward Snook or Ron Lee at 541-474-7885. One of the accusers has recanted her false charges, which leads us to believe others should do the same. Since the girls all attend Church and therefore should still possess a conscience, they should do the right thing and come forward with the truth. An agonizing young man is in prison, fearful for his safety, spending day after day realizing the days may never end. Each child who has made a false accusation should spend each and every day realizing they have contributed to the destruction of another human being. Another human being, whom the facts would lead us to believe, is likely innocent.