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Bob Macy: A look back


Ben Fenwick January 12th, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on prominent Oklahoma County legal figures.

Two weeks after he was sworn into office in 1980, Oklahoma County District Attorney got the call to which he’d promised to respond. It was a police detective from the south side of Oklahoma City.

“He said, ‘We just had a triple homicide at a south side motel and thought you might want to be here,’” Macy said.

During this interview, conducted in 2007, Macy’s voice shook from a condition that weakened it and put slight tremors in his

movements, leading him to step down from a job he’d liked to have kept for life. Nevertheless, his memories were clear, even if his voice was shaky.

“When I was sworn in, I said, ‘You are going to see me at the crime scene.’ That’s because you have to create the crime scene in the minds of the jury, and that’s pretty hard to do if you have never seen it,” Macy said. “So, I went out there. Somebody had taken a .45 and executed three men at the Guest House swimming pool. It turned out that Clifford Henry Bowen was charged and connected and drew three death penalties.”

That conviction came despite 12 alibi witnesses that placed Bowen, a paunchy poker player with a previous conviction involving burglary, 300 miles away at a rodeo in Tyler, Texas. One witness was hypnotized to help her testify better — a fact not shared with the jury. In his closing argument — despite not having presented any evidence during the trial — Macy speculated that Bowen had flown in and out of Oklahoma City and Tyler by private jet in order to pull off the murders.

Within five years, a federal judge overturned the convictions. Among the reasons stated by the court was that Macy and his team did not share with the defense a suspect, Lee Crowe, a South Carolina policeman being investigated in his home state. He had similar features and carried the same weapon as used in the murders. Prosecution is bound by law to share exculpatory evidence with the defense, a hallmark of the American justice system.

“We find unpersuasive this reliance on testimony which could have been impeached with the Lee Crowe material. Crowe had a distinct opportunity to commit the murders,” the court wrote, adding that Macy’s “jet airplane theory is at best speculation and at worst fantasy.”

Macy contended that the courts cost him the trial over a technicality. He had made a chance comment in the stairwell of the courthouse to Bowen’s attorney, he said, stating that he had no other credible suspects.

“They criticized me; they said I withheld evidence,” Macy said. “I said, ‘We’ve only got one (suspect) — that’s your client.’ The court ruled that I should have given him a written list. The federal court ruled it as a violation … a critical violation that I didn’t … I was convinced he was guilty. The jury found him guilty and gave him three death sentences.”

While it was his first murder case, it was far from his last, and far from the only one to be thrown out.

THE LAW OF THE WEST
Macy’s origins are the modern Western story: A young man with smarts and gumption, despite limited means, raises himself to become perhaps the most recognized lawman in the state.

“Until I was 18 years old, I’d never slept in a house with running water in it,” said Macy, now 80. “My dad was a truck driver. College was something he didn’t even talk about. For some reason, though, I wanted to play football. I worked to support my family and played it in high school. I was contacted by a small school in Indiana and was offered a scholarship to play football for them.”

Macy joined the U.S. Air Force in 1956, then attended University of Oklahoma law school on the GI Bill, as he worked for the Oklahoma City Police Department.

“In those days, we worked 27 days straight and then had four days off. I had two babies during that same period,” he said.

Retiring Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Rudolph Hargrave fondly remembered the young attorney as one who sometimes would neglect important hearings.

“He was practicing law in Ada, and he would never come to what we called ‘motion dockets’ on time. So one day, I dismissed his case for lack of interest. After that, never again was he late to my court,” Hargrave said. “He was always easy to get along with. I tried a few cases up here when he was DA, too. He was all right.”

Often, Macy would inspire fierce devotion from police officers, fellow prosecutors and others who remember him as a staunch ally that had their backs, a lawman loyal to his cohorts.

“The way Bob handled the crime scenes — coming out to the scene, getting to know the victims’ families, tears in his eyes — that’s what Bob instills in his people,” one Oklahoma City Police Department officer noted. “Nobody can do it like Bob. Who else is going to defend these victims’ families? Bob understands the misery they’ve been through. That’s his claim to fame. What a defender this man has been for all of us!”

 In person, he comes off as direct, but personable. Macy emphasizes results and outcomes.

“I ran the best prosecuting office in the country,” Macy said. “I was president of the national DA. None had a better staff than the prosecutors I had: Ray Elliott, Don Deason, Brad Miller, Fern Smith. They are great trial lawyers. When a tough case would come in, it wouldn’t matter who I assigned it to.”

Elliott and Deason became Oklahoma County district judges.

“You go to the U.S. attorney’s office, and half of the staff were trained by me. Judges — I would guess at least 30 percent of the district judges in Oklahoma County were trained by my office,” Macy said. “(U.S. District Chief Judge) Vicki Miles-LaGrange — I recruited and hired her. (Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice) Tom Colbert — I recruited him. The thing I hope and know I instilled is absolute integrity and respect for the law.”

Macy’s appointment by Gov. George Nigh in 1980 and the 1982 election coincided with the Western flavor of President Ronald Reagan’s ascent to power that same decade. Even as the former actor revived the image of cowboy justice on the international scene, Macy did so on the Oklahoma political scene. He sported a string tie — the old-fashioned kind worn by fast-food icon Col. Sanders. He wore Western-cut suits, cowboy boots and often donned a cowboy hat.

As his fame grew, so did his body count. By his estimation, Macy saw as many as 60 death penalty cases pass through his office during his 21-year tenure.

“You do realize, we’re talking about 60 death penalty cases, maybe 50?” Macy said. “People ask me, ‘Do you have 54 death penalty cases?’ I say, ‘I don’t know.’ How do you count when you have two victims and one killer, or vice versa? How do you count one, you know?”

However the number is derived, one thing remains crystal clear in Macy’s recollections: the victims. The details of their bloody, horrific and lonely deaths stand out in stark relief against whatever politics, law or judicial wrangling were involved.

Like in the case of Roger Dale Stafford, who on July 16, 1978, murdered six employees of south Oklahoma City’s Sirloin Stockade steak house. Macy said Stafford was actually executed for the murder of the Lorenz family, killed on Interstate 35 near Purcell. Although the initial trial was handled before Macy took office, Macy said he “handled all the subsequent stuff and got him executed.”

He remembered in haunting detail the deaths of Melvin Lorenz, 38; his spouse, Linda, 31; and their child, Richard, 12. On the way to a family funeral, the family stopped on I-35 to help Stafford’s wife, Verna, who was pretending to have car trouble. Stafford, who was with his brother, Harold, robbed and shot the Lorenzes. Harold died days later in a Tulsa motorcycle accident; Verna is now serving a pair of consecutive life sentences.

“The thing I remember is the little boy was in the camper — he had massive open-heart surgery and was kind of retarded,” Macy said. “Coming out of that camper were the handprints of the little boy, in blood. They were still there at the crime scene. The one image in my mind was that poor boy being taken out of there and executed.”

His memories are filled with blood and death and sadness at the loss, attached to specific details, like satanic murderer Sean Sellers spinning the cylinder of the revolver he used to kill his own mother, or the multiple rapes and then burning of 84-year-old Addie Hawley at the hands of Loyd Winford LaFevers and Randall Eugene Cannon.

“They got her (Hawley) out of the car, took her over to the edge of the field, raped and sodomized her again, poured gasoline over her and set her on fire,” Macy said. “It took her some time to die.

“How do you —” Macy stammered. “How do you … take that in front of a jury and not argue for the death penalty?”

Even so, he acknowledged errors were made during his tenure as Oklahoma County’s chief law enforcement officer.

“I know it sounds corny, but I tried to do what was right,” Macy said. “I made mistakes. We all make mistakes — especially in a job like that, where you are making major decisions every day, but I tried to do what was right. I tried to train all these younger lawyers coming on to be honest.”

One mistake would come to define the close of his career as Oklahoma County DA: the work of Oklahoma City Police chemist Joyce Gilchrist.

‘Black Magic’
During his final term in 2001, a story broke that called into question perhaps thousands of cases in Oklahoma County.

Macy remembered Gilchrist as a sharp professional, good in front of a jury — known to many as “Black Magic” because her testimony, often on hair and fiber matching, would be very convincing to juries.

“To be honest, I liked Joyce. She was a professional. When she came to the courtroom, she would wear a business suit and makeup, but nothing flashy,” Macy said. “She was so … good. The reason the defense attorneys didn’t like her was because she was better prepared than they were. She would make a better presentation to a jury. She probably did win more than her share of the arguments because she was prepared.”

Yet, that preparation became a nightmare for law enforcement, prosecutors and the court system. An FBI study of a few cases in 2001 revealed that Gilchrist “went beyond the acceptable limits of forensic science” and misidentified hairs, blood and semen samples and other evidence, according to the investigating agents.

Two men accused of rape were exonerated on account of DNA evidence. A convicted murderer was freed. At least 10 executions were tied to Gilchrist’s testimony, which now has been largely debunked.

Macy spoke of bewilderment regarding her.

“I’d love to sit down with her and say, ‘Joyce, what the hell is going on?’ I haven’t been able to do that,” he said, citing lawsuits in which both he and Gilchrist were named. He said, however, that there might be an explanation.

“I know at that time we were working those girls to death,” Macy said of Gilchrist and her female colleagues. “They were handling a tremendous volume. That’s when forensics was getting very popular and being used more. I can see how it would be very easy to make mistakes. When you are comparing things like hairs and fibers, it would be real easy to make mistakes. … We went through a time … I think we were putting too much weight on forensic hairs and fibers. I don’t think it was ever the exact science we all believed it was.”

Now retired, Macy lives at his ranch outside Oklahoma City. He said he is writing a book.
 
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