Who to believe, DNA evidence or third party confession?
At 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 21, 2013, the State of Oklahoma executed Anthony Castillo Sanchez in its death house at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. It marked the tenth execution since the state resumed its blistering execution rate in 2022, following a legal lull brought about by the state’s repeated number of botched executions.
Sanchez was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006 for the December 1996 abduction, rape, and murder of a University of Oklahoma ballerina named Juli Busken. She was abducted on December 20, 1996, in the parking lot of the apartment complex where she lived in Norman, Oklahoma. Her body was discovered roughly six hours later at Lake Stanley Draper, in the southeastern part of Oklahoma City.
Sanchez maintained his innocence then and held it till the last day of his life. His last words in the death chamber were: “I didn’t kill nobody.”
Based on DNA evidence collected at the crime scene, the Oklahoma City District Attorney’s Office in 2000 charged an unknown male with the Busken murder. Investigators in the case would then collect DNA samples from 200 males in an effort to identify that unknown male. No match occurred.
In 2002, Sanchez was convicted and sent to prison for a second-degree burglary he committed the year before. As required by law, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections collected a DNA sample from him and placed it in the combined databases of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) and the federal DNA Index System (CODIS).
In July 2004, an OSBI criminalist alerted a cold case detective with the Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD) that Sanchez’s DNA profile matched the profile of the unknown male in the Juli Busken case. The OCPD detective obtained a search warrant for a new sample of Sanchez’s DNA. The testing conducted by the OCPD’s crime lab on that new sample determined that Sanchez’s DNA “corresponded” with the DNA evidence collected at the Busken crime scene.
It must be noted that at the time OCPD crime lab prepared its 2000 DNA profile of the unknown male suspect in the Busken case, the crime lab’s lead criminalist, Joyce Gilchrist, was fabricating, manufacturing, and misrepresenting DNA and other evidence in criminal cases, including death penalty cases.
That scandal created some uncertainty about the original DNA profile in the Busken case. So much so that in the weeks before Sanchez’s execution, Oklahoma state Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) asked state Attorney General Gentner Drummond to reprocess the original DNA profile in the case. The far right-wing attorney general refused.
Three days before Sanchez’s execution, Liliana Segura published the results of her exhaustive investigation into the condemned man’s protestations of innocence in The Intercept (09/18/23). The article is appropriately titled “The Secrets DNA Keeps.”
Segura’s investigation reveals compelling evidence that Anthony Sanchez’s father, Glen, killed Juli Busken.
That evidence includes incriminating statements and Glen’s outright confession to Charlotte Beattie, his girlfriend and common-law wife. Beattie first suspected Glen as the killer when she was shown a forensic sketch artist’s depiction of the suspected killer. The sketch, she believed, looked more like Glen than Anthony. Her suspicions were given credence by Glen’s mean, sadistic character, which included him repeatedly raping her throughout their in-and-out relationship.
Glen turned a shed behind Beattie’s home into his “man cave.” He posted a warning sign, according to Segura, inside the cave that read: ‘WHAT HAPPENS IN THE MAN CAVE STAYS IN THE MAN CAVE.”
It was in this man cave where Glen frequently brought up Juli Busken’s name and her murder. He referred to her as “the ballerina girl” or “that Busken bitch,” saying things like, “I should’ve done a better job on her.” He told Beattie that Anthony did not know how to tie the knots that bound Busken’s wrists.
These incriminating statements and Glen’s morbid disdain for Juli Busken convinced Beattie, private investigators, and Anthony’s attorney that Glen was the actual killer. Even Anthony’s first trial attorney compiled enough evidence to convince him that Glen was the killer.
In 2022, as the pro-death penalty hawk Attorney General Drummond was ramping up the state’s plan to resume executions, including Anthony Sanchez, Glen Sanchez was dying of cancer and had returned to Beattie’s home to finish his remaining days on her couch. She had become deathly afraid of him. She was absolutely convinced he was Juli Busken’s killer.
On April 22, as Beattie was talking on the telephone in her bedroom, she heard a gunshot, after which she walked out on her porch, where she found Glen dead with a bullet wound to his head.
Glen Sanchez chose to kill himself rather than succumb to cancer. He left his son on death row to face a sure execution for a murder the father probably committed.
Probably is the keyword.
Segura’s investigation, which covers every facet of the Anthony Sanchez case, establishes a greater probability that Glen Sanchez killed Juli Busken than Anthony Sanchez.
The only direct evidence against Anthony Sanchez was the DNA evidence. The few additional tidbits of circumstantial evidence against him (like having once possessed a small caliber gun and Juli Busken being killed with a small caliber) cannot truly qualify as meaningful, credible “circumstantial evidence.”
The question then is whether a State should be allowed to execute a person based exclusively on DNA evidence, particularly when that evidence is compiled in a crime lab that is manufacturing false DNA evidence in death penalty cases.
Veteran DNA scientist Laura Schile thinks not. She is the person who exposed Joyce Gilchrist’s corruption of the OCPD at the time the DNA profile of the unknown male was compiled in the Busken murder.
“It takes a lot of years to understand DNA,” Schile told Segura. “People share alleles with other people.”
She added that “DNA is an investigative tool. It is not an investigation in and of itself.”
DNA expert Tiffany Roy agrees. She says a death penalty case that relies solely on DNA is a red flag.
“If it’s just the DNA,” she told Segura, “and that’s all you have, then it isn’t enough. If you can’t go back and put the DNA in context to ensure it is proof of the alleged crime, then it is certainly not enough to justify an execution. The chances that you’re going to get it wrong, for me, the risk is just too great.”
We think the State of Oklahoma, particularly the pro-death penalty crusader, AG Drummond, got it wrong with the execution of Anthony Sanchez.
Why didn’t AG Drummond allow the original DNA evidence to be reprocessed as requested by Rep. Humphrey? Was that evidence tainted or contaminated in some manner? Were the correct scientific protocols followed in reaching the DNA profile from that evidence?
These unanswered questions cast serious doubts about Anthony Sanchez’s conviction.
Anthony Sanchez turned down an opportunity to apply for clemency this past June—a process in which he would have been asked to admit guilt. He turned down that opportunity, saying he would rather die on his feet protesting his innocence than on his knees begging for mercy for a crime he didn’t commit.
Those are the actions of an innocent man.