Oklahoma Prepares to Execute Anthony Sanchez for the 1996 Slaying of Ballerina Jewell “Juli” Busken
Oklahoma is gearing up for the execution of Anthony Sanchez, who has been found guilty of murdering 21-year-old ballerina, Jewell “Juli” Busken, in 1996. Sanchez, 44, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on Thursday at 10 a.m.
The Tragic Killing of Jewell “Juli” Busken
Jewell “Juli” Busken was a talented ballerina from Benton, Arkansas, who had just completed her final semester at the University of Oklahoma. However, her promising future came to a brutal end on December 20, 1996, when she was abducted from her apartment complex in Norman. Authorities later discovered her lifeless body that same evening, revealing that she had been bound, raped, and shot in the head.
The Unsolved Case and DNA Evidence
The heinous crime remained unsolved for several years until a breakthrough was made through DNA analysis. DNA recovered from Busken’s clothes eventually linked Anthony Sanchez to the crime scene. Despite the evidence against him, Sanchez has consistently maintained his innocence, proclaiming in a telephone interview with Newsweek earlier this year, “I did not kill Juli Busken.”
Sanchez’s Legal Battle
As the scheduled execution draws near, Sanchez’s legal team has been fighting to prevent his capital punishment. This week, they filed an appeal with a federal circuit court after a federal judge denied a stay of execution. Sanchez’s attorney, Eric Allen, argued in the filing that they needed time to thoroughly review the boxes of materials recently turned over by Sanchez’s former counsel. Allen emphasized that these sealed boxes could contain crucial information that might provide relief for Sanchez.
Appealing to both the courts and Governor Stitt, Allen expressed his hope for the execution to be halted. He urged Governor Stitt to grant a reprieve so that he could thoroughly investigate further evidence of Sanchez’s innocence, utilizing the fifty boxes of case materials that were only recently obtained.
A Controversial Defense Strategy
April witnessed Sanchez’s attorneys requesting an evidentiary hearing from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. During this hearing, they claimed that Sanchez’s late father, Thomas Glen Sanchez, was the actual perpetrator of Busken’s murder. Allegedly, his father’s ex-girlfriend, Charlotte Beattie, repeatedly confessed that the elder Sanchez had admitted to committing the crime that condemned his son to death row. Additionally, a private investigator employed to examine the case questioned the reliability of the DNA evidence.
The State’s Conviction and Statement from the Attorney General
Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Gentner Drummond, has staunchly defended the conviction of Anthony Sanchez, asserting that the evidence against him is overwhelming. He criticized Sanchez’s attempts to shift blame to his deceased father, deeming it a “ludicrous allegation thoroughly discredited by DNA analysis.” Drummond expressed this sentiment in a statement to Newsweek.
A Plea Rejected and a Gloomy Outlook
In June, Sanchez rejected the opportunity for a clemency hearing, believing that Governor Stitt would not spare his life even if the Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency. Sanchez criticized the entire process, stating, “There is no greater danger than misplaced hope.” He denounced the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, describing their decision-making as contributing to countless injustices.
Protests Against Sanchez’s Execution
In response to Sanchez’s imminent execution, the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is planning to stage a protest outside the governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City on Thursday. Rev. Don Heath, a minister and attorney who heads the organization, highlighted the numerous unanswered questions surrounding the Sanchez case. The organization contends that the prosecutors relied solely on a DNA match in a cold case and question the certainty with which Sanchez was convicted.
Oklahoma’s Checkered History with Lethal Injections
If Sanchez’s execution proceeds as scheduled, it will mark the 10th execution in Oklahoma since the state resumed lethal injections in October 2021. The state had previously halted capital punishment for almost six years due to a series of botched and flawed lethal injections. The mishaps were evident when officials discovered they had received the wrong drug just hours before Richard Glossip was scheduled to be executed in September 2015. The same wrong drug had been used earlier that year in the execution of Charles Warner, following the highly publicized botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014.
Last summer, a federal judge rejected a challenge to Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol. As a result, the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals scheduled execution dates for 25 inmates, spacing them approximately one month apart. However, after the January intervention of Attorney General Drummond, the pace of executions was slowed down, shifting Sanchez’s execution to September.