Judge orders inmate freed due to police corruption
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2012
7/20/12 at 10:43 PM
Grand jury investigates police corruption: Read all of the stories, view a timeline and read key documents.
A man was ordered freed from prison Friday about seven years after a Tulsa police officer falsified a search warrant and illegally searched his home, according to a federal judge’s order.
U.S. District Judge James Payne vacated Tony Becknell Jr.’s sentence and ordered Friday afternoon that he be released.
Becknell, who was serving time in a federal prison in El Reno, had been in the Tulsa Jail while proceedings in his case unfolded in court here. His family waited eagerly at the jail to see him Friday night, but he still had not been released by 10:30 p.m.
Including Becknell, at least 45 people’s sentences have been vacated or cases modified because their civil rights were violated or problems with their cases were uncovered as a result of a police corruption probe.
The federal investigation, which began as early as 2008, resulted in charges against six former Tulsa police officers and a former federal agent, as well as accusations of criminal behavior against five more officers who were never charged.
Becknell was convicted in federal court in 2005 on two counts of drug possession with intent to distribute and was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison. Changes in law during his time in prison allowed him to get his sentence reduced to 10 years.
Until Friday’s ruling, Becknell was scheduled for release in January 2014.
“I’m just really happy for Tony’s family,” his attorney, Paul DeMuro, said after the judge’s order. “And I’ve never been more proud to be an attorney.”
DeMuro focused his case on the lack of documentation regarding the alleged confidential informant used by police.
Jeff Henderson, a Tulsa police officer at the time, had filed court affidavits that he used to obtain warrants to search places Becknell was known to stay.
In the affidavits, Henderson said a confidential informant had been on the premises a few days previously and had seen drugs inside, court records show.
Henderson, who was convicted of perjury and civil rights violations in the police corruption case, is serving a 42-month sentence in South Dakota was brought back to Tulsa to testify in Becknell’s case last month.
Henderson testified that he never documented who the informant was, but he told the court the name of a man he said was his informant.
Henderson described the man and their interactions on the Becknell case, saying he rode with the informant to Becknell’s house and talked on the phone with the informant and that the informant had bought drugs at Becknell’s home.
The turning point in Becknell’s case came a week after Henderson’s testimony, when DeMuro showed the court that the person identified by Henderson as the informant was in the Tulsa Jail in March 2005, when Henderson filed the affidavits to obtain the search warrants, and for several months before and after that month.
An effort by prosecutors to identify new leads ended Thursday when the Tulsa U.S. Attorney’s Office recused itself from the court proceedings in Becknell’s case and was replaced by Jane Duke, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
On joining the case, Duke said efforts to identify new leads or possible informants had yielded no results and that the government would not introduce any new evidence.
See more in Saturday's Tulsa World.
Jane Duke, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Tony Becknell Jr.