Preliminary hearing begins in Weleetka girls' killings
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
1/29/13 at 6:58 AM
Read previous stories on the girls’ deaths and the community reaction.
OKEMAH - Prosecutors traced the path of the Glock gun used to kill Skyla Whitaker and Taylor Paschal-Placker from its forging in Austria to a rural Okfuskee County road, where they say Kevin Sweat used it to kill two girls 4 1/2 years ago.
At the first day of a preliminary hearing on first-degree murder charges in the girls' killings, Okfuskee County Associate District Judge David Martin considered the testimony of nearly a dozen witnesses to determine whether enough evidence exists for a trial to proceed.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Sweat, 27, in connection with the deaths of Taylor, 13, and Skyla, 11, both of the Weleetka area. Both girls were shot multiple times on June 8, 2008, and left to die on that rural Okfuskee County road.
Sweat already has been ordered to stand trial in Okfuskee County next June on a murder charge in connection with the July 2011 slaying of his former girlfriend, Ashley Taylor, who disappeared in the summer of 2011.
Sweat's mother, his father and his mother's cousin all testified late Monday. His mother, Deborah Sweat, and her cousin, James McClellan, said they couldn't recall telling Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents that Kevin Sweat had told them that Ashley Taylor threatened to tell people he killed "those girls" if he broke up with her.
Deborah Sweat testified that her son told her that his girlfriend threatened "to spread lies" about him if he broke up with her but never said what the lies were about.
Testimony began Monday with Peter Placker, Taylor Paschal-Placker's grandfather who raised her as his own child, telling how he discovered the girls' bodies on the side of the road.
The friends had taken a walk down to Bad Creek Bridge after a weekend sleepover. It was a walk Taylor took nearly every day.
Placker and his wife had begun frantically searching the road for the girls after calls to Taylor's cellphone rang unanswered.
He found the girls' bodies in a ditch on the side of County Line Road and checked to see if either had a pulse.
Skyla Whitaker (left) and Taylor Paschal-Placker:
He then walked to the middle of the road and "started screaming (his) head off," he said.
The girls were shot multiple times on June 8, 2008, and left to die on a rural Okfuskee County road. They had gone for a walk after a weekend sleepover.
"They killed our babies," he yelled.
He and his wife called 911, and paramedics arrived, but the girls were already dead. A paramedic was the first to notice the shell casings in the road, Placker testified.
Placker's testimony was followed by that of OSBI Agent Brad Greene, who processed and documented the crime scene on the evening the girls' bodies were found.
Greene said each girl appeared to have been shot multiple times, with evidence indicating that a .40-caliber pistol and a .22-caliber gun were used.
As Greene described details from the crime scene, Sweat sat with his defense attorneys, hands folded and lips pursed. He occasionally took notes and asked his attorneys questions.
The bulk of Monday's testimony followed the path of the Glock model 22 .40-caliber gun that began its life as service weapon in the Baltimore Police Department.
Edward Silvey Jr., a records custodian for Austrian gun manufacturer Glock's U.S. office in Smyrna, Ga., testified about the company's process of tracking guns by serial numbers as required by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The gun was part of a large order shipped to the Baltimore Police Department around 2001, he said.
Andrew Stefankiewicz, a retired Baltimore police officer, testified about ballistics testing and tracking procedures that the department uses for each gun that comes into its possession for forensic purposes.
Glock refurbished the gun years later, and from there, it went from a distributor to Jerry's Guns Unlimited in Okemah.
Store owner Jerry Bryan testified that he sold the gun to Smokey Patchin, a local sheriff's deputy.
On the stand, Patchin said he couldn't recall how much he paid for the gun. Defense attorneys asked him how many guns he owned.
"Gee, I don't know," he said. "I'm a gun guy. I own several guns."
Patchin testified that he later traded the gun to James Kennedy, an Okfuskee County reserve deputy who worked at the jail, for a different model Glock.
Kennedy used Patchin's former gun as his service weapon when he worked as a Weleetka police officer because the town couldn't afford to buy weapons for all its officers, he testified.
Kennedy sold the gun to John Woods, another local police officer. Woods testified that around September 2007, he sold the gun for about $300 to Kevin Sweat, who was working at the Henryetta McDonald's. They met while Sweat was working the drive-through window.
Woods needed the money, he told the court.
When he was originally questioned, Woods said, he couldn't recall the name of the man to whom he sold the gun. Then he saw Sweat working at the Henryetta Subway shop and remembered, he said.
Terrance Higgs, a firearms and tool marks examiner for the OSBI, testified that lab examinations matched the shell casings found at the girls' homicide scene to spent casings found during a search of Kevin Sweat's father's property and an archived casing from the Baltimore Police Department tests - meaning the same weapon fired all of those bullets, he said.
Defense attorneys tried to question Higgs' methodology, but the court recognized him as an expert witness, and the questioning did not seem to faze him.
Higgs testified that he's 100 percent sure the casings were matches.
"Isn't that quite a bold statement?" defense attorney Peter Astor asked him.
"Not if it happens to be true," Higgs responded.
A judge has not yet ruled on a motion filed by Sweat's attorneys to suppress statements he made to law officers during interrogations in September 2011.
OSBI agents interviewed Sweat on Sept. 13, 2011, while he was being held in connection with Ashley Taylor's slaying. He told agents he was driving on a rural Okfuskee County road in June 2008 when he pulled over, got out of his car and was approached by "two monsters," according to court records.
Sweat told the agents he "panicked," grabbed a .40-caliber handgun from between the seats of his car and "shot the monsters." He then grabbed a .22-caliber gun from the glove box and "shot the monsters" again before getting back into his car and driving away, agents said.
Attorneys for Sweat contend that although he signed a waiver of his Miranda rights before making any statements, he made "a clear request to have counsel present," court records state.
Because Sweat did not have an attorney present, those statements should not be allowed to be presented in court as evidence, defense attorneys have argued in court filings.
Sweat's attorneys have also requested that his trial be moved outside Okfuskee County due to heavy media coverage and community interest in the case.
Timeline of key events
June 8, 2008: Skyla Whitaker and Taylor Paschal-Placker are gunned down on an Okfuskee County road.
July 15, 2011: Ashley Taylor is last seen by her family. She tells them that she and boyfriend Kevin Sweat are leaving Okmulgee to go to Louisiana to get married.
July 29, 2011: Ashley Taylor's family reports her missing after they haven't heard from her and discover that Kevin Sweat is still in town.
Aug. 3, 2011: Sweat is arrested in connection with Ashley Taylor's disappearance.
Aug. 8, 2011: Police find human remains that they suspect may be Ashley Taylor's. Sweat is later charged with her murder. Trial is set for June 10, 2013.
Dec. 9, 2011: Sweat is charged with first-degree murder in the two girls' deaths.
Monday: Preliminary hearing begins for Sweat in the girls' deaths.
Original Print Headline: Hearing begins in killings
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Kevin Sweat wears a bulletproof vest as he is escorted out of the Okfuskee County Courthouse in Okemah on Monday, the first day of his preliminary hearing on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two young girls. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Michael Taylor (right), who is the father of homicide victim Ashley Taylor, and Faye Taylor walk into the Okfuskee County Courthouse in Okemah before the preliminary hearing for Kevin Sweat on Monday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World