By Renee' Rackley
Murder of 16-year-old Ada High School Color Guard Member Caitlin Elizabeth Wooten and suicide of her abductor and killer Jerry Don Savage
ADA — On the somber Sunday morning of Sept. 25, all of Ada grieved of the shocking news as the 2005 top story unfolded. Following a state wide Amber Alert and the night-long desperate search by several law enforcement agencies, the lifeless bodies of 16-year-old Caitlin Elizabeth Wooten and her abductor 47-year-old Jerry Don Savage were spotted by helicopters in a remote field southwest of Ada in what appeared to be a murder-suicide. Savage kidnapped the Ada teen Friday Sept. 23 from her High School where she was preparing for a football game as a member of the Ada Cougar's Color Guard. According to court records, in an attempt to punish Wooten's mother, Savage's former girlfriend, for breaking off a relationship with him, Wooten was taken to the remote location and fatally shot in the back of the head.
Savage was free on a $200,000 bond at the time of Wooten's murder for the earlier armed abduction of her mother, Donna. Upon his release from jail, Donna obtained a protective order against Savage and fled to Tulsa.
Since the murder-suicide, Savage's friend Faye Francis Sliger has been charged with the felony murder of Wooten. Sliger's girlfriend, Karen Maureen Dial, was also charged with acting as an accessory after the fact. Sliger's arraignment is scheduled Jan. 10, at 9 a.m.
This story caught national attention when Dr. Phil McGraw devoted an entire episode of his nationally televised talk-show to Wooten's family. The program called "Deadly Injustice" aired Oct. 25.
The news of Wooten's murder quickly prompted State Senator Susan Paddack to act, authoring legislation to tighten up Oklahoma's current bail law. Paddack will present SB 1037, "the Caitlin Wooten Act," to the state Senate during the next session.
Ammon Reich is convicted in the death of Joseph Tusan
On Friday, Aug. 5, Ammon Dean Reich, a 44-year old diesel mechanic from Konawa, was found guilty of one count of murder in the second degree and 32 counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for the Sept. 19, 2004 hit and run incident that killed 18-year-old ECU football player Joseph Tusan, rendered his team-mate Dennis Scales quadriplegic, and injured nine other students.
The incident began as a racially motivated verbal altercation between the Reich family and the group of students under the South Canadian River bridge on S.H. 99. Once the conflict turned physical and gunshots were heard, the students fled in a 2004 black Ford F-150 driven by 18-year-old Andrea O’Byant of Stratford. Three of the students climbed into the pickup's cab with O’Bryant and seven more, including Tusan and Scales, rode in the bed unrestrained. Reich chased O'Bryant's fleeing pickup and rammed it three times from behind with his pickup causing her to lose control. The pickup overturned into an embankment and all seven passengers in the bed were ejected. Tusan was pronounced dead at the scene.
After deliberating for two hours and 45 minutes the jury reached the decision to convict Reich, ending an emotional week-long trial. The jury recommended Reich serve a life sentence for the murder conviction and 10 years per count for the 32 counts of assault and battery. Tears of sadness competed alongside tears of relief as District Judge Thomas Landrith read aloud the jury's decision and recommendation of 320 years plus life.
Landrith upheld the jury's recommendation and Reich was formally sentenced Aug. 30.
Three members of the Stonecipher family die in a plane crash
Ada again witnessed tragedy at 5:50 p.m. July 24. Harland "Brent" Stonecipher, 34, his wife Tina Lynn Stonecipher, 33, and their daughter Nichole Ann "Nikki" Stonecipher, 11, all of Cushing, were riding in a 1971 Cessna 310Q fixed wing multi-engine aircraft when it impacted the ground near the highway in front of the new CLEET facility. According to witnesses, the low-flying aircraft starting sputtering and appeared to be in trouble. Witnesses said it looked like the plane attempted to land on the nearby highway but fell short and crashed into the grass on the shoulder. The plane apparently then caught fire and skidded several feet along the highway into a ditch where it continued to burn near U.S. 377 and Egypt Rd.
The plane's pilot "Brent", was the son of Prepaid Legal Services CEO Harland Stonecipher. The family was reportedly returning home to Cushing after a trip to Branson. They had stopped in Ada to visit the Stonecipher's and Tina's parents, as well as pick up their family pet puppy, Max, who also died in the crash.
Funeral services for the Stonecipher's were 2 p.m. Wed. July 27 at the Evangelistic Temple Church with the Rev. Mickey Keith officiating.
Mikhail Gorbachev visits Ada
On Oct. 26, Ada welcomed a former world leader and listened as he spoke in a public forum on the campus of East Central University about Perestroika, a program he said ultimately ended the hostility between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
Before a packed Kerr Activity Center, former Soviet President Gorbachev said Perestroika was a program he initiated during his presidency that eventually led to democratic governments in eastern Europe and the fall of communism.
Gorbachev also voiced many concerns about what is happening in the world right now and cited many references about the reasons terrorism and extremism are so rampant today.
Gorbachev's Ada visit was made possible through the hard work of Dr. Mara Sukholutskaya PhD., assistant professor of Russian language and literature, and French and Spanish languages at East Central University, a committee she chaired, and the generous donations of local businesses, individuals, and organizations.
Glen Gore to get new trial for 23-year-old murder
In a shocking decision Monday, Aug. 22, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the sentence of death row inmate Glen Dale Gore and ordered a new trial in the nearly 23-year old murder case that has now sent three men to prison.
In May 2002, Gore was tried and convicted in Pontotoc County for the December 8, 1982 murder of 21-year old Debra Sue Carter of Ada and sentenced to death. Gore's conviction came after Dennis Fritz and Ronald Williamson were found guilty of Carter's murder and convicted in 1988. Fritz and Williamson were sentenced to life imprisonment and death, respectively. Later as technology advanced, samples of DNA excluded Fritz and Williamson from the murder. The case against Fritz and Williamson was ultimately dismissed after the two had already served 12 years in prison.
Gore, who was a state's witness at the Fritz and Williamson trial, was then charged with the rape and murder of Carter when further DNA testing proved Gore was the donor of fluids found in the victim's body.
The Court of Criminal Appeals said that because Gore was not allowed to submit evidence to provide Ronald Williamson as an alternate suspect in the murder, he was denied a fair trial in "accordance with traditional and fundamental principles of due process."
The Court's opinion stated, "we find the exclusion of the evidence was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, accordingly, the judgment and sentence is reversed and this case is remanded to the District Court for a new trial."
Gore has since re-appeared in court several times and an evidentiary hearing is scheduled Jan. 23 at 9:00 a.m.
IRT announces decision to locate in Ada
On June 3, Interactive Response Technologies, two-time winner of the J.D. Power Award, officially announced its intent to locate a new call center in Ada. Along with the announcement, IRT representatives told Ada their goal was to be operating by September.
IRT representatives visited Ada the week following the announcement and began the process of getting the call center up and running in the former SYKES building.
IRT Company Officials estimated hiring 250 employees by the end of December and hoped to eventually employ up to 500 locals to fill the 43,000 square-foot state of the art facility.
IRT officially opened its doors for business Oct. 20 with a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors.
Ada businessman Jay Quinton sentenced to six years for bank fraud
January 20, Ada investment broker Jay Quinton stood before Chief United Sates District Judge James H. Payne in a U.S. Federal Court and was sentenced to 72 months for bank fraud and 36 months for issuing a false federal income tax return. Quinton's attorney said the defendant could have received up to 87 months in prison.
Quinton pleaded guilty in 2004 to a scheme to embezzle funds from the First National Bank and Trust Company of Ada and to filing a false federal income tax return. Quinton told the court he engaged in acts of embezzlement during 2000 through 2003 while he was the manager of First Ada Financial Services, Inc., a stock brokerage subsidiary of First National Bank. According to the plea agreement, Quinton embezzled approximately $2.8 million and failed to pay more than $500,000 in taxes.
Quinton was ordered to report to a federal prison on March 4 to serve his prison term. Additionally, he was ordered to pay $2,190,596.74 to First National Bank, $565,038.36 to the Internal Revenue Service and will serve five years of supervised release after prison.
John Grisham to chronicle Ada murder
On March 9, Adan's learned the best-selling fiction author planned to write his first non-fiction book about a local man who was sentenced to death for murder before being exonerated 12 years later.
John Grisham, acclaimed author of The Firm, The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill and many others, will document the plight of Ron Williamson, who was convicted of the 1982 murder of 21-year-old Debra Sue Carter, along with Dennis Fritz.
Williamson and Fritz were released from prison in 1999 after DNA tests failed to link them to the forensic evidence retrieved from the murder scene.
At one point Williamson was five days away from being executed. Williamson died of liver cancer in December 2004 at 51-years-old. Grisham said he became intrigued by Williamson's story after reading his obituary in the New York Times and reportedly purchased the story rights for his upcoming book from Williamson's two sisters.
Grisham is researching his book in Ada and originally planned to interview around 100 people including relatives, childhood friends, arresting officers, and defense and prosecuting attorneys. Doubleday will publish the book. Grisham expected his research to take about 10 months. Grisham said Williamson won't be the hero of his book but will instead be the victim.
ECU's 100 mile relay team sets Guinness Book record
Sunday, Aug. 29, just before 4:00 a.m., 10 local runners made history when they broke the Guinness Book of World Record’s 100 mile relay by a team of 10 by clocking a record breaking eight hours 28 minutes and four seconds.
Despite the threat of storms, at approximately 7:30 p.m. the previous Saturday evening, the 10 man team, comprised of five current East Central University students and five ECU alumni, began an attempt that would soon beat the current record by one hour and 13 minutes.
Originally the idea of the record attempt came from runners Matt Aguero, the first place winner of the 2005 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and Tex Bewley. After the team was chosen, an application for a bid was submitted to Guinness for consideration. According to runner Cody Weaver, the application process took six weeks to complete then the team was provided with the complete list of rules. According to Guinness rules, two witnesses had to be present at all times and the attempt had to recorded on videotape for submission to Guinness.
A physically draining eight and one half hours after the team began their quest, the previous record was blown away and Ada's own runners made the Guinness Book of World Records.
Paul Alford, East Central University's oldest 2005 graduate receives degree at 83
Alford graduated from Latta High School in 1941. In 1943, Alford was drafted and placed on active duty. After serving a three year tour in Europe, Alford returned home and hoped to begin college. Soon thereafter, Alford was activated with the 45th Infantry Division and served two more years in Korea.
When Alford returned home a second time, he was given the opportunity to work for a large oil company. In 1952, while continuing to work, Alford began taking courses on the G.I. Bill. Alford completed 110 hours by 1958, but due to scheduling conflicts found it too difficult to continue his education.
In 1959, Alford opened a real estate business in Ada and has been a successful businessman and community leader in Ada since. Among other accomplishments, he has served on Ada City Council, as Ada Mayor, on the Ada Chamber of Commerce, and on the Ada Board of Realtors.
Alford finally found his chance to return to school when Dr. Alvin Turner, Dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences at ECU, spoke to the Ada Rotary Club about a new degree ECU was offering, a Bachelor's degree in General Studies. Alford said he realized this was an opportunity for him to finish school and that is exactly what he did.
On May 14th, Alford joined the graduating Class of 2005 and walked across the stage in his cap and gown. After more than 50 years from the time he took his first college class, Alford graduated college.
Other notable 2005 headlines
January 3, Pontotoc County welcomed new Sheriff Pete Peterson into office after he defeated incumbent Jeff Glase in the July 2004 election. Once Peterson took office, deputy Joe Glover was promoted to Undersheriff and deputy Justin Priest was named Chief Deputy.
In early February, Granny's Union Valley Station and Cafe burned to the ground. The nearly century old store displayed a proud collection of antique photos and license plates that were destroyed in the blaze. The store was a well-known landmark in the area and described as the heart of Union Valley.
On Feb. 18, East Central University's President since 1989, Dr. Bill Cole announced his impending retirement in June of 2006 at the Board of Regents of Oklahoma Colleges meeting. During his 15 year presidency, Cole saw the university through 21 construction, renovation, or expansion projects, 16 endowments, $20 million in grants, the growth of the ECU Foundation Inc. to more than $17 in assets, and the entry into the NCAA Division II.
After repeated criticism from fellow senators questioning his ability to lead, Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson resigned his seat March 23. Hobson reportedly admitted he has a problem with alcoholism and attributes the turmoil he faced to his disease. Hobson previously acknowledged his problem and sought treatment in 2003 then again in 2004.
On April 2, Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century died at 9:37 p.m. in his private Vatican apartment. The pope died after suffering heart and kidney failure following two recent hospitalizations. He was 84.
Oklahomans cheered as Checotah native Carrie Underwood won "American Idol" during the two-hour live finale in Los Angeles on Wed., May 25. The 22-year-old country singer recently released her first album titled "Some Hearts."
After 25 years as superintendent of Ada Schools, Zane Bowman said good-bye to a memorable career and retired June 10. Assistant Superintendent Pat Harrison was named the new superintendent to succeed Bowman.
On June 19, Ada said a mournful good-bye to longtime local attorney W.B. "Barney" Ward. Ward, who practiced law in Ada for more than 50 years, died in an Oklahoma City hospital. His funeral was Wed. June 22 at First Christian Church.
July 21, Ada learned the widening of Lonnie Abbott Industrial Blvd. was scheduled to begin the first of September. City officials said the project would widen Lonnie Abbott from the North Hills Center west entrance east to the narrowing of the street near Wal-Mart Supercenter, about a 2000 feet stretch and was estimated to cost approximately $700,000.
Longtime Ada Evening News publisher and owner, William "Bill" D. Little Jr. died July 25 at Lindale Tex., after a more than 50 year career in journalism. He was 84.
In October and early September Ada was outraged with the nation-wide soaring gas prices and locally witnessed it rise to over $3 a gallon. Gas prices across Ada ranged from $2.99 to $3.06 per gallon, which jumped more than 25 cents in just a matter of weeks.
Ada was shocked to learn 51-year-old Faye Francis Sliger of Ada, was formally charged with the first degree felony murder of Caitlin Wooten and denied bond. Sliger was arrested early Saturday morning, Sept. 24, in connection with Wooten's murder and suicide of her abductor Jerry Don Savage.
In November, Ada learned the descendants of former Oklahoma governor and U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr are planning to move his remains from an Ada grave to a cemetery in Oklahoma City. Kerr's daughter explained she and her brothers are getting up in years and feel moving the site closer to them will guarantee perpetual care of the grave.
By Renee' Rackley