HENRYETTA, Okla. (KFOR) – Days after seven bodies were found with gunshots to the head in Okmulgee County, families of the victims are saying the legal system failed them.
39-year-old Jesse McFadden is believed to have killed six others before killing himself, but loved ones of the victims say he would not have been able to commit the murders if the court had taken him to trial faster for a criminal charge he was facing at the time.
The Okmulgee Police Department reported that on Monday, they found the seven bodies at McFadden’s property on Holly Rd. in Henryetta.
The victims have been identified as McFadden himself, McFadden’s wife 35-year-old Holly Guess, her three kids; 17-year-old Rylee Allen, 15-year-old Michael Mayo, and 13-year-old Tiffany Guess, and friends of the children; 16-year-old Brittany Brewer and 14-year-old Ivy Webster.
All seven bodies were found with gunshot wounds to the head on the property southeast of the actual residence.
The families of the victims are expressing a desire to hold Oklahoma’s justice system accountable.
“Oklahoma dropped the ball and let my family die,” said Jan Mayo, Holly Guess’ mother.
She and the other victims’ loved ones say they don’t understand why McFadden was allowed to be released from prison in 2020, when in 2017 he was criminally charged for sexting a minor with a contraband cell phone from prison.
He was serving time for a rape conviction when he got the sexting charge from the Muskogee County District Court.
“They should be held accountable for releasing a monster,” said Ivy’s father, Justin Webster, referring to the state justice system that released McFadden from prison.
Spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections Kay Thompson told KFOR that by statute, the sexting a minor charge must be dealt with separately from the rape conviction and that, “they can’t keep people in prison for things they are not convicted of.”
But McFadden wasn’t set to face a jury trial for the sexting charge in Muskogee County until May 1, six years after the initial charge.
Law enforcement said he skipped the May 1 court date and is believed to then have committed the six murders before killing himself. Now the victims’ families are wondering if their loved ones would still be alive if the case hadn’t taken so long.
“It took a really, really long time to bring this 2017 case to justice,” said Jacqui Ford, an Oklahoma City trial lawyer. “It’s cases like this that make us all take a beat and say, ‘hey, what is it that we could have done differently? What is it that we should have done differently?’ And as we sit here today in May of 2023, what are we willing to commit to doing differently in the future? We have to do better because when we don’t, tragic things happen like this, and victims and defendants and their families are left with the question of why.”
While Oklahoma City legal experts like Ford emphasize that McFadden is innocent of the sexting a minor charge until proven guilty, they do understand the concerns of loved ones.
Attorney Billy Bock said his eyebrows raised when looking at the timeline of McFadden’s case on the Oklahoma State Courts Network.
“It looks like there were six different preliminary hearings or it was continued six times,” he observed. “In my opinion, that’s too many. But I can’t comment on somebody doing something wrong because I don’t know the reasons for each of those continuances. But it just seems to me there should be a put up or shut up date and if they file those charges, they need to prosecute.”
He also observed the jury trial being re-scheduled multiple times.
“Simply stated, I don’t know sitting here today whether the state let them down or not, but it is certainly a question that needs to be answered,” he said of the concerns the victims’ family are expressing.
OKC legal expert Ed Blau also provided opinions on why the sexting a minor case could have dragged on.
“His first three years he was incarcerated,” he explained. “Logistically, that makes things difficult. He was incarcerated in the Department of Corrections. That creates major logistical issues, and nothing moves quickly when somebody is incarcerated.”
Secondly, he brought up the coronavirus pandemic slowing down the state’s court systems.
“Because of COVID, both the delays COVID caused and unfortunately, his original defense attorney passed away from COVID in mid-2020,” he shared.
Thirdly, he said OSCN’s case file shows that McFadden had bonded out on the case.
“Someone who is in custody, their case is going to take precedence over somebody who’s out of custody,” Blau said. “So even if the prosecutor wanted his case to go to trial, if somebody was, in fact, in custody requesting a jury trial, that defendant’s case would go first and that means that Mr. McFadden’s case would get moved to the next trial docket, which could be months away.”
All three attorneys stressed that they don’t know the specific details of the case but are only providing their professional perspective based off the OSCN records.
Blau suggested advocating for legislation could be a path forward for the families of the murder victims.
“What the families are going through must be excruciating,” he said. “It’s more than understandable that they feel that the system let them down and for them to look for possible changes so that this would not happen to anybody else going forward.”
He then explained his thought process.
“If the Legislature wants to dramatically increase the funding for prosecutors, public defenders, and courts, that would make things move faster,” he said. “If there were more prosecutors that could be paid more, if there are more public defenders that could handle these cases, and if the courts had more resources, both in increasing the number of judges and the ability to have more jury trials each year, more cases would get resolved more quickly than what they are now.”
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections sent KFOR a statement to give the public clarity on many of the questions and concerns they currently have surrounding McFadden’s prison sentence and release.
“The Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ role is to carry out sentences handed down by the Oklahoma court systems and to adhere to state statutes and the constitutions of Oklahoma and the United States.
State statute dictates ODOC base an inmate’s incarceration on a level system that determines custody level, job status, program status and privileges. The level system (OP-060107) encompasses multiple criteria including behavior and attitude, program and education assignments, and general hygiene. Inmates begin earning credits upon reception, however, for crimes with an 85% minimum time served, those credits are banked and not applied until the 85% date is reached.
Inmate Jesse McFadden was sentenced to 20 years in 2003 and was received into ODOC custody in January 2004. Per state statute, for his conviction, McFadden had to serve no less than 85% of his sentence, which is a minimum of 17 years. Inmates are given credit for time served within county jails, which in his case was 76 days, moving his release date to Oct. 30, 2020.
McFadden was a Level 4 inmate for most of his incarceration, however, he was assigned to Level 1 in January 2017 following his misconduct occurring in December 2016 for possessing a contraband cellphone. He returned to Level 4 through the proper steps in June 2017 through the end of his incarceration. When McFadden reached his 85% date, his banked credits were applied, and he was released.
Through sentencing from the court, McFadden was to register as a sex offender. He was given no probation, however, because he was a lifetime registrant, he had to check in every 90 days with the sheriff’s office. He was compliant with this stipulation. Registered sex offenders are allowed to live with their own children and stepchildren as long as they are not a victim of the offender. However, they are supposed to notify the Oklahoma Department of Human Services if they do. Sex offenders are not required to notify neighbors of their registration status.”Kay Thompson, Spokeswoman, Oklahoma Department of Corrections
KFOR also received comment from the Director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Tom Bates, who said that McFadden did not have to go before them.
“Jesse McFadden was released October 30, 2020 because he discharged his sentence, not due to any action by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board,” he explained. “He discharged his sentence, meaning he served his time and was released because his sentence was over.”
KFOR also reached out to the Muskogee County District Attorney’s Office and Rex Earl Starr, a lawyer for McFadden, to learn more about the length of the sexting a minor case. Neither party has responded.