The state no longer is seeking the death penalty against a Sand Springs man whose conviction was reversed on appeal in a 2001 Glenpool double-murder.
Michael Allen Browning, 41, was sentenced to die in 2003 in the killings of Harry Hye, 64, and his wife, Teresa, 42, who were shot during a robbery Feb. 8, 2001, shortly before their home burned.
Their niece and foster daughter, Cenessa Tackett, then 21, survived the attack and became the prosecution’s key trial witness against Browning and co-defendant Joel Shane Pethel, 39, of Tulsa.
The two were accused of binding Harry and Teresa Hye and Tackett with tape and shooting all three before setting fire to the home. Browning was Tackett’s former boyfriend and the father of her child.
Pethel pleaded guilty to the two murders plus other counts. His sentences included four consecutive life terms.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he was notified Thursday that a complaint lodged against him with the Oklahoma Bar Association in relation to the case against Browning had been dismissed, enabling his office to move forward with the prosecution.
On Friday, the state struck from the case a filing called the Bill of Particulars, which outlines the aggravating circumstances that justify pursuing the death penalty. The prosecution will move forward to pursue a life sentence or life without the possibility of parole, Kunzweiler said.
His decision came after new information developed in the case, he said.
“I’m not at liberty at this time to share the information, but it was significant enough for me to decide that it was in the best interest that we not proceed with death-penalty consideration,” Kunzweiler said.
The complaint against Kunzweiler stemmed from a 2011 federal judge’s decision that Browning was entitled to relief based on a pretrial ruling by a Tulsa County judge not to order the disclosure of Tackett’s mental-health records. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 2013 based on the fact that the defense did not know that Tackett had been diagnosed with a severe mental disorder, paving the way for a retrial.
Kunzweiler’s office at the time had turned over Tackett’s mental-health records to then-Associate District Judge Deirdre Dexter, who decided the records would not be turned over to the defense. With the subsequent federal court rulings, the defense got those records.
With the complaint dismissed, Kunzweiler expressed satisfaction in being able to move forward with the prosecution.
“I’m invested with the case, and it’s only appropriate that I remain the prosecutor in the case,” he said.
A new trial date has not been set.