Supporters launch campaign to save Oklahoma death row inmate

May 25—Supporters of an Oklahoma death row inmate launched a campaign to prove his innocence and save his life Thursday with a press conference at the state's Capitol.

Anthony Sanchez's supporters gathered at the Capitol and asked state legislators and Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond to give Sanchez, a member of the Choctaw Nation, the same treatment they are giving to the case of death row inmate Richard Glossip, a white man.

"We pray that they will be equally engaged for Anthony Sanchez," Abraham Bonowitz of Death Penalty Action said during the Thursday press conference. "In other words, for some people, disposable. Anthony Sanchez is not disposable."

Sanchez was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 21-year-old Jewel Jean "Juli" Busken. Court documents state Busken, of Benton, Arkansas, was a ballerina and recently finished her last semester at OU when she was abducted from her Norman apartment on Dec. 20, 1996.

Busken's body was found at Lake Stanley Draper in Norman with a single gunshot wound to the back of the head and she had been raped.

Sanchez is set for a clemency hearing Aug. 9 and is scheduled to be executed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Sept. 21.

Attorneys for Sanchez earlier this year asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for a new hearing based on DNA evidence they claimed proved the man's innocence and that his father, Glen, committed the murder. Attorneys also alleged Glen previously confessed to a woman who claims she was too scared to come forward until after he died in 2022.

The Attorney General's Office said there are "many reasons not to believe" the woman's statements and new DNA testing confirms Glen Sanchez did not commit the murder.

"The testing further determined that there is a 99.9% probability that petitioner's father is the father of the individual whose sperm was on Juli Busken's leotard," the AG's office wrote in response.

OCCA denied the request for a new hearing last month, ruling the woman's statement was considered hearsay and referred to the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office test results.

"Considering the evidence against Anthony Sanchez, this is hardly surprising," OCCA wrote in its opinion. "This new information does not impeach the consistent and compelling evidence of his guilt noted by every court that has reviewed this case."

Sanchez maintained his innocence last month in a phone interview with the News-Capital from death row.

"You start digging down in my case, it's like, one mistake after another mistake after another mistake," Sanchez said. "It doesn't look right."

Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood, Sanchez's spiritual advisor, said the reason for a large push at this stage of Sanchez's case is that attorneys for Sanchez did not speak with the death row inmate for six years.

Sanchez's attorney, Mark Barrett, said he was neither appointed nor hired to represent Sanchez from November 2016 to June 2020 — when the attorney was appointed to represent him for clemency action.

Barrett said although he was not appointed during that time frame, he did file a motion in 2017 that was later denied by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals and helped lead Sanchez to join a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma over its lethal injection protocols.

"I was neither appointed nor hired to do anything on Anthony's behalf. I tried to represent his interests anyway and undertook the communications necessary for that representation," Barrett said. "When the clemency budget was approved by the federal court, there was a pandemic going on and I did not make non-essential visits to clients for some time. Randy Coyne and I then visited Mr. Sanchez early in 2023 in connection with a fourth successor post-conviction which I filed on Anthony's behalf.

Sanchez and his supporters say there is more evidence in the case than the DNA to consider, including shoe prints, fingerprints, police sketches, and ballistics evidence.

The death row inmate argues his shoe size is an 11 and a half with the shoe print obtained by investigators a seven and a half to an eight shoe size.

"If my lawyers had sized my foot, they would have known that I'm a size 11 and a half," Sanchez said.

Sanchez's supporters also argue no fingerprints that belonged to him were found at the crime scene and that a police sketch looks more like his father than Sanchez.

"There's never been no murder weapon found or linked to me or my family," Sanchez said. "No ballistics has ever been linked to me or my family."

Court records state a medical examiner identified the death wound as a contact gunshot to the rear of Busken's skull. The medical examiner recovered the bullet and later identified it as a .22-caliber. Ballistics analysis showed the weapon's barrel marked it with 16 lands and grooves and a right-hand twist.

Witnesses testified at the trial that Anthony Sanchez on occasion carried a .22-caliber weapon and often fired a weapon inside an apartment where investigators said the Sanchezs previously lived and discovered a bullet of similar caliber to the one recovered at the scene.

But court documents state attempts to prove both bullets were fired from the same weapon "proved inconclusive."

Hood said that he truly believes Sanchez is innocent and that most death row inmates he works with "are guilty."

"The difference is there are questions that have never been answered," Hood said. "I am opposed to executions under any circumstances. But at the same time, if the state is going to have a death penalty, shouldn't it have it devoid of questions?"