VINITA — Attorneys for quadruple-murder suspect Ronnie Dean Busick have asked for time for him to undergo competency-related tests before his preliminary hearing is set.
Busick appeared Friday in Craig County District Court for a preliminary hearing docket in connection with the slayings of Danny and Kathy Freeman and the kidnapping and presumed deaths of their daughter, Ashley Freeman, and her friend, Lauria Bible.
“We want additional time to do some investigation into his brain function and review the interrogation materials,” said Gretchen Mosley with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.
Lauria and Ashley were 16 years old when they disappeared from the Freeman residence on Dec. 30, 1999. Kathy and Danny Freeman were fatally shot, and their mobile home was set on fire.
Authorities believe that the girls were kidnapped, tied up, raped and held in a mobile home in Picher for a “matter of days” before being strangled, according to an arrest affidavit filed in Busick’s case.
Two other suspects, Warren Phillip Welch II and David Pennington, both now deceased, were also implicated by prosecutors in the killings. Welch died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and Pennington died a drug-related death.
Handcuffed and wearing blue jail clothes, Busick shuffled into the courtroom and promptly glanced at the Bible family, who were seated on the front row.
Busick was in court Friday for the fourth time since his arrest in April. He was ordered to return to court on Feb. 22, when a preliminary hearing will be set.
Busick survived a gunshot wound to the head, and that old injury combined with an extensive history of drug use is the reason the tests were requested, Mosley said after the hearing.
“We are dealing with a client whose brain function is compromised,” she said.
Lauria’s mother, Lorene Bible, said after the hearing that the newest development didn’t surprise her.
“Let’s get him tested,” she said of Busick. “He is choosing not to remember.
“He sits in jail, gets three square meals a day — and I still go looking for my daughter,” Bible said.
Authorities also continue to look for the girls, said investigator Gary Stansill.
Although investigators continue to search for possible locations of the girls’ remains in the Picher mining field, Stansill said that “we have not concluded the girls are in a mine shaft.”
Bible said she welcomed the help of Jim Martell, an Army Corps of Engineers geologist and Tulsa Police Department reserve officer, and Ed Keheley, a retired nuclear engineer.
“It’s another set of eyes,” Bible said.
Martell and Keheley are volunteering their time and expertise in researching the Picher area for locations that show promise of finding the girls’ remains, Stansill said.
Both volunteers cited their desire to help the families in the almost 19-year-old case and “to bring the girls home.”
For years, the two men worked together and walked every square inch of the 40 square miles of lead- and zinc-contaminated land in the Tar Creek area. Phil Welch, the presumed mastermind of the killings, had a mobile home in Picher.
Mining companies left the area in the 1960s and ’70s, leaving behind countless open mines and mine shafts.
There are 186 mineshafts within Picher’s city limits. Keheley’s records reveal which of those shafts close to Welch’s mobile home were open or capped at the time of the girls’ disappearance.
“People still have information and are out there,” Stansill said, adding that “there is no reason to be afraid to come forward with information.”
“It’s time to bring the girls home,” Stansill said.
Busick has denied any involvement or knowledge of the whereabouts of the girls’ remains. He is in an isolated cell in the Craig County jail with bail set at $1 million.