SULPHUR, Okla. — It is a sentence that stunned Oklahomans around the state.
In the summer of 2016, a 13-year-old girl said she was raped by 36-year-old Benjamin Lawrence Petty while she was at a church camp at Falls Creek. Petty was reportedly a cook at the church camp.
According to court documents, the victim said that Petty told her he was going to show her how to perform tricks on a device he brought to the camp when he suddenly pulled her into his cabin.
“Petty closed the door to his bedroom, tied [victim’s] hands behind her back, pulled down her jeans, pushed her face down on his bed, and violently raped and sodomized her,” the document states.
He was later arrested and charged with forcible sodomy, first-degree rape, and rape by instrumentation. He faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
In January, Petty accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to just 15 years of probation in exchange for pleading guilty.
Under the terms of the plea deal, Petty will also be required to wear an ankle monitor for the next two years and register as an aggravated sex offender.
After the conditions of the case were released, the public was stunned.
David Pyle, who prosecuted the case, resigned as the Murray County Assistant District Attorney on Wednesday.
News 4 caught up to Pyle, who said that he understands the shock but that the plea was agreed upon by all parties in the case.
“You have to take into consideration the facts of this case,” Pyle told News 4. “Is this a bad deal? Yes, it is; however, everyone involved in this case agreed with that recommendation.”
He did note, however, he did not contact District Attorney Craig Ladd regarding the deal before it was made in court.
“As assistants, we have the authority to basically prosecute our own cases. In the four years that I have been here, Mr. Ladd has been involved in two cases up here with me,” he explained to News 4.
According to the official transcription from court, the judge asked the victim’s attorney, Bruce Robertson, whether the family was comfortable with the plea.
Judge: “They either are or are not.”
Robertson: “Yes, Your Honor.”
Judge: “They are?”
Judge: “Okay. Do you have anything else you want me to know before I announce my sentence?”
Robertson: “No, Your Honor.”
Judge: “Okay. Do you feel like you’ve had an opportunity to be heard sufficiently?”
Robertson: “I do, Your Honor.”
In a statement sent Wednesday, we were told, “The family consented to the plea agreement based on the representation by Mr. Pyle that Petty would not serve meaningful time in prison due to his medical conditions. The family was not provided any other alternative.”
News 4 confronted Pyle with claims from the victim’s attorney that they did not receive an alternative option aside from the first plea deal.
Pyle said they never asked for a second option.
“In plea negotiations, there is always give and take on both sides,” he said. “Many times, plea offers are changed. That’s the negotiation part of it. They had the right to ask and say, ‘No, we don’t like this deal. We want him to go to prison.’ They didn’t do that.”
District Attorney Ladd told News 4 he was “upset and shocked” to hear of the plea deal. The first time he heard of the bargain was last Monday, he said. Ladd added that Pyle should have consulted with him before the bargain was made official in court.
“Typically that expectation is honored. In this case, however, the Assistant District Attorney did not consult me about what plea offer he intended to make,” Ladd said in an email. “Had I been kept apprised, I certainly would have had authority to stop the offer from being extended and would have done so.”
Pyle said he’s “disappointed” in how everything has turned out.
“I hate that this has happened. I hate that all of this publicity has gotten out in all of this, because I don’t like it. But at the same time, the negotiations in this case were carried out like any other case,” said Pyle.
Now, more than 46,000 people have signed a petition, calling for the judge in the case, District Judge Wallace Coppedge, to be removed.
“District Judge Wallace Coppedge should not have allowed the plea deal. Sign now to have him removed from the bench immediately,” the petition states.
Lee Berlin, an attorney for Petty, confirmed Friday that the 15-year suspended sentence was entirely his idea.
“ADA David Pyle strongly resisted a suspended sentence recommendation during most of the litigation. However, as I developed a defense that severely impaired the prosecution’s ability to secure a victory, I believe the State became more receptive,” said Berlin. “In my preparation for trial, I developed several facts and a case theory that was so powerful that, in my opinion, it made it almost impossible for the State to win.”
Berlin went on to say, Petty’s blindness had nothing to do with the sentence, a fact that Pyle agreed with.
Pyle said he was simply thinking of the victim.
“My experience has been when it comes to victims…facing the person who has perpetrated on them, every time they have to testify, it is a traumatic experience and the fewer amount of times she has to testify is better for her,” explained Pyle.
Attorneys for the family declined to speak with News 4 on camera Friday, but provided the following statement:
“Our law firm has been in contact with Assistant District Attorney David Pyle since a few months after the rape. ADA Pyle assured us that his office would not agree to a plea deal that did not result in significant incarceration for Benjamin Petty. However, in late 2017, ADA Pyle contacted us and stated that he had reached a tentative deal with Petty that did not involve jail time. ADA Pyle stated that the deal was appropriate because, regardless of the sentence, Petty would not actually serve any meaningful prison time due to his medical conditions.
After we expressed our disappointment, ADA Pyle flatly stated that he did not have to consult with the victim’s civil attorneys on this issue at all. ADA Pyle made it clear to us that no alternative plea deals would be considered. After consultation with our clients, the family consented to the plea agreement based upon ADA Pyle’s representation that Petty would not serve meaningful time in prison due to his medical conditions.
During the hearing, the Court was accurately informed that the family agreed to the plea based upon Petty’s admission to the three felonies charged and the criminal acts alleged. To be clear, the family’s consent to the plea was already based on ADA Pyle’s representation that a sentence imposing prison time would be futile in light of Petty’s medical conditions.”
News 4 also sent a number of questions to Berlin, Petty’s attorney. Here are his responses:
Q: Who’s idea was it to propose 15 years of probation for Mr. Petty?1. The idea to propose a 15 year suspended sentence was entirely mine. ADA David Pyle strongly resisted a suspended sentence recommendation during most of the litigation. However, as I developed a defense that severely impaired the prosecution’s ability to secure a victory, I believe the State became more receptive. In my preparation for trial, I developed several facts and a case theory that was so powerful that in my opinion it made it almost impossible for the State to win. I provided Mr. Pyle a preview of our defense and specifically addressed those issues I believed were fatal to the prosecution’s case. Additionally, the State had certain evidence that was no longer in their possession. That evidence had gone missing. Of particular importance was the journal of the accuser that was no longer in the possession of law enforcement.So as we approached trial with these issues weighing on the State, I approached ADA Pyle about a plea deal. I suggested to ADA Pyle he approach the Plaintiff’s attorneys about Mr. Petty agreeing to enter a plea of guilty to all of the counts in exchange for a 15 year suspended sentence. I explained to Mr. Pyle that I believed the Plaintiffs really only cared about the money, and that I was almost certain that money was all their attorneys were concerned with.I asked Mr. Pyle to explain the problems with the case and the real risk of loss to the accuser’s family and lawyers. I explained to ADA Pyle that I believed that both the family and the plaintiffs lawyers really only cared about a guilty verdict for the effect on their civil lawsuit and didn’t really care about Mr. Petty going to prison.ADA Pyle initially resisted this request on my part. I asked him to “float it by the lawyers and family.” I stated if they are fine with it, you will know their real concern is money. If they insist on prison time, we all go to trial. A few weeks later, I believe I received a faxed letter from ADA Pyle that said he had spoken with the family and they are in agreement with the 15 year suspended sentence.Q: Did Mr. Petty’s blindness have anything to do with his sentence?2. Mr. Petty’s blindness had absolutely nothing to do with the sentence. The subject never came up in relation to a plea. We did discuss Mr. Petty’s laundry list of other co-morbidities and medical issues. The only time I recall addressing Mr. Petty’s impaired vision was when I asked ADA Pyle to fax me the plea paperwork well in advance so my client could have extra time to review it because of his sight. It was obvious his vision was impaired because it was in the police reports and he used a walking stick to navigate obstacles. I was the only one to really address Mr. Petty’s medical problems. Mr. Petty was convinced that if sentenced to prison, the Department of Corrections would be ill equipped to handle his issues and their mishandling his medical issues could be fatal. This subject came up as ADA Pyle and I discussed plea options over several court settings, phone calls, and correspondence. This served as a major obstacle to a plea deal being worked out that involved any prison time at all. My client’s position was probation or jury trial.Q: Do you know why the family took the offer?3. I have no idea why they took the offer. Speculation on the subject would lean in the direction that the plaintiff’s lawyers did not want the fate of their entire case to rest in the hands of ADA Pyle while he was saddled with facts and problems that were fatal to their case. They probably wanted to control the case and the narrative instead of a rural Assistant District Attorney. A guilty verdict is all they needed. A Not Guilty verdict which was becoming a greater and greater possibility by the day would make their civil case almost impossible to win. I am not a plaintiff’s lawyer, so I am just guessing. But my guess is money.Q: You said the facts of the case indicated a likely loss for the family. Please elaborate if you can.
4. I cannot elaborate now because I do not have the shield of the legal proceedings to protect me. Any details I provide to you may result in a lawsuit.