A Delaware County attorney who is charged with racketeering and solicitation of murder said a 10-count grand jury indictment against him is “an aberration” of the legal system and called the case the result of “vindictiveness and jealousy.”
Winston Connor II, 54, turned himself in at the Tulsa County jail ahead of a bond reduction hearing Wednesday afternoon. An arrest warrant provided to the Tulsa World on Jan. 13 indicates that authorities wanted Connor held in lieu of $500,000 bond.
Tulsa County Special Judge Millie Otey lowered Connor’s bond to $250,000 and ordered him to surrender his passport to Presiding District Judge William Musseman before he was released Wednesday. Otey also imposed a no-contact order between Connor and two dozen witnesses named in court documents, although she said the issue may be revisited later.
She granted a request from Connor’s Tulsa attorney, Clark Brewster, to waive his court appearance while he went through the booking process. Connor is scheduled for a preliminary hearing March 19.
“The charges against me today are an aberration of the system I have trusted and worked in my entire professional life,” Connor said upon his release Wednesday evening in remarks provided to the media in writing. “The charges are based on sensationalized allegations and, in many instances, clearly provable falsehoods.”
Assistant Attorney General John Brasher said in court that he thought the original $500,000 bond amount was fair, given the charges against Connor. However, Brewster argued for a $25,000 cash bond, saying his client is not a public safety or flight risk.
“The core and most serious charge, solicitation for murder, is based solely on a single taped telephone call with an inmate confined in the Department of Corrections,” Brewster wrote in a court brief requesting the bond reduction. “The state’s spin on that call is, at best, highly subjective and sensationalized.”
Authorities arrested Connor Jan. 12 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The indictment was filed under seal in November and unsealed Jan. 14. A North Carolina judge set Connor’s bond at $10,000 the same day for being a fugitive from another state, and he was released from custody early Jan. 15.
Otey said Wednesday that she determined that Connor surrendered himself to Tulsa County authorities within the 10-day legal limit granted to those who receive bond amounts after being arrested on fugitive warrants out of state. North Carolina law treats such arrests similarly to other cases when determining conditions of pretrial release.
However, that standard does not apply if the defendant is named in a governor’s warrant, which means he or she must remain jailed at least until appearing for a hearing in his or her home state.
“I am truly stunned that the vindictiveness and jealousy that motivated and orchestrated this investigation has culminated in these outrageous charges,” Connor said in his statement. “I will trust my legal team and I will use every cell in my body and every resource at my disposal to expose this injustice and prove my innocence.”
Connor faces allegations of encouraging Slint Tate, a convicted murderer and client, to either carry out or orchestrate attacks on people he believed harmed him in some way. Authorities began surveillance of a contraband phone Tate used while in custody to communicate with Connor, which reportedly revealed a conversation in which the two discussed another inmate who Connor said attacked someone he knew before going to prison for a Tulsa murder.
A search warrant affidavit filed last week in Delaware County District Court states that DOC personnel placed that inmate, Sterling Williams, into protective custody due to the belief that his life was in danger. Tate later told his wife he could get released from prison but that he would have to kill someone first, according to the affidavit.
The same document indicates that Tate sent to Connor on another occasion video footage of an attack on a man who took a vehicle belonging to Connor’s secretary’s family as collateral in a drug transaction with the secretary’s relative. Connor, according to the document, sent Tate a “thumbs up” emoji in response.
Additionally, prosecutors contend that Connor showed intent to destroy a cellphone that contained evidence of Tate’s leadership role in a drug ring operated from inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Tate pleaded guilty in federal court to a drug offense and received a 20-year sentence, which is consecutive to his life-without-parole term for the murder of a Delaware County reserve deputy in Rogers County in 1999.
The Tulsa World in 2017 obtained copies from Kenny Wright, the district attorney for Delaware and Ottawa counties, of recorded conversations between Connor and Tate. The discussion about the phone was among the calls provided.
When asked about the contents of the search warrant affidavit, Brewster said, “You can say that in a pleading, but when you look at the tape and the conversation, it doesn’t bear a resemblance to what they’ve pled.” His co-counsel, Paul DeMuro, told reporters, “We have not yet begun the fight” against the charges and said he was “proud” to represent Connor.
In other charges, police allege that Connor used his law firm’s resources to further the operation of a group of massage parlors in Tulsa that were fronts for the sex industry. Search warrant documents show that during grand jury testimony, an employee of one of those businesses identified Connor as a client. She said he met her weekly for sexual activity in lieu of meetings at his office after she paid him to represent her in a child custody matter.
Several employees identified in a search warrant affidavit used Connor or his associates’ legal services as they fought prostitution-related charges, court records show. But Brewster, in his court brief, said of Connor, “Unfortunately, he was never given an opportunity to tell the true facts to the grand jury.”
“This is an absolute overcharge and intent to get him, a successful lawyer that’s had an incredible career,” Brewster said Wednesday evening. “And we’ll stand proudly and we’ll walk out of that courtroom after an acquittal. And I hope it (the story) carries that headline: ‘Accusers are held accountable.’”