Tulsa D.A. refuses to prosecute brutal slaying in midst of violent crime wave
TULSA, Okla. -- July 27, 2004 – The family of a slain businessman, Shawn Howard, is seeking justice for their son in a case that has many questioning the judgment of the Tulsa County prosecutor’s office.
On June 25, Mr. Howard, owner of a downtown tavern, located at 23 North Cheyenne Avenue, died from wounds received during an assault by a vagrant in the early morning hours of June 24. Howard was hit in the head as many as 10 times with a steel pipe. His teeth were broken out. His skull was destroyed.
The killer pursued Howard after he was left stunned and helpless. Howard was attempting to flee when he was hit from behind. After the victim was rendered unconscious, his killer beat him savagely. Tavern manager Josh Martin was also severely beaten.
The night of the attack, Terry Badgewell, a transient with a documented history of violent crime, fled the crime scene and was later arrested on two complaints of assault with a deadly weapon. He was covered in the blood of Martin and Howard. Howard's family and friends trusted that charges would be filed.
They were wrong.
Without even interviewing Martin, the only witness to the killing, Tulsa District Attorney Tim Harris declined to press charges and released Badgewell on the grounds of self-defense. Why? Because, in part, Howard struck Badgewell with a single light blow with a set of brass knuckles he was carrying for protection while transferring receipts for deposit. The eye witness stated Howard was attempting to warn Badgewell away. Indeed, Badgewell's booking photo showed no visible marks of any kind.
The decision has created a polarizing firestorm of discussion and speculation among local residents that leaves many scratching their heads. The police investigation came to a halt after Harris’ announcement.
The Howard family is, however, determined to expose the facts, protect their son's memory, and pursue justice for him.
“We just want the facts of this case to come into the open, and let the chips fall where they may,” Kay Howard, Shawn’s mother, said. “We wanted our report to be objective, and we think it is.”
Based on the D.A.’s pledge to the family that he would consider any additional evidence they uncovered, an attorney was hired to conduct an investigation, produce a report and share the results with Harris, who asked for a copy.
The family had faith in the D.A.’s promise. That faith was soon betrayed.
Two days before a meeting was to occur, the family was shocked to read the D.A.’s office statement to the press: They revealed that the upcoming meeting was merely a matter of “courtesy to the family”, and that, in effect, their minds were closed.
Mrs. Howard reacted with bewilderment. “We did everything we could. If they have additional information, as they have implied, they at least need to show it to us. After all, we’ve shared our information with them.”
The family’s attorney stated: “Under the law, this was not an act of ‘self-defense.’ Lethal, disproportionate force was used after any credible claim of threat from Shawn toward his killer has disappeared.”
Harris has been repeatedly criticized in the community for what seem to be inexplicable decisions not to prosecute violent crimes. This leaves residents struggling to cope with a skyrocketing crime rate that has sent Tulsa into the top 15 cities in the nation, prompting Attorney General John Ashcroft to deploy a task force of FBI agents to help local law enforcement cope.
Citizens who look forward to the success of the City's revitalization projects are concerned that safety issues may become a major stumbling block. And those residents outraged at the D.A.’s refusal feel their only option is to gather the 5,000 signatures necessary to petition to constitute a Grand Jury under the Oklahoma Constitution. Mrs. Howard comments: "Shawn worked tirelessly to make downtown a safer, more interesting place. All we want is justice for Shawn."
Samantha Dent For The Family of Shawn Howard
Resources and investigative report requests available online: http://www.justiceforshawn.userspace.org