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Stephen Ritter

A judge found a Hughes County man accused of murder not guilty by reason of insanity Friday.

Stephen C. Ritter, 28, Atwood, was accused of killing 26-year-old Damien Wade Wilkerson near Atwood in December 2008.

Firefighters were called to the scene of a burning pickup Dec. 12 at 6 a.m. When the fire was extinguished, Wilkerson’s badly burned body was discovered inside.

“What we were alleging at trial was, (Ritter) had become convinced — wrongly so we believe — that the victim was going to set him up on a drug deal and have him possibly be arrested on some sort of drug investigation,” Hughes County District Attorney Linda Evans said. “We put on a 30-minute audio tape of a conversation between the defendant and another man in the Calvin/Atwood community where he basically said that was happening.”

The non-jury trial began Oct. 12, 2010 and ended Oct. 18. Investigators alleged Ritter lured Wilkerson from his home in the predawn hours by saying his pickup was stuck and he needed help.

Ritter allegedly shot Wilkerson in the back of the head, drove his body to a nearby railroad right of way and set the pickup on fire.

“We had some stealth-cam photos shortly thereafter which showed the defendant went home and burned his clothes,” Evans said.

Authorities believe Wilkerson was dead before he was set on fire.

A spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office, Cherokee Ballard, confirmed the identity and manner of death.

“The probable cause of death was gunshot wound to the head,” she said. “Manner of death was homicide.”

Ritter was also found not guilty by reason of insanity on an additional charge of third-degree arson.

He remains in custody of Hughes County officials until Oklahoma Department of Mental Health officials can perform an evaluation as to whether or not Ritter is a danger to public safety.

Ritter has a pending charge of attempt to kill.

Evans said in February 2009, while in the Hughes County jail, Ritter allegedly stabbed a jailer in the neck with three sharpened pencils.

On Friday, Damien Wilkerson’s sister, Amanda Wilkerson, said the family is in shock over the verdict.