Four former Bixby High School football players appeared in Tulsa County District Court on Wednesday to plead not guilty to second-degree rape charges over a reported assault at the then-superintendent’s home a day ahead of the previously set schedule.
Colten Cable, 17; Samuel Isaiah Lakin, 17; William Henry Thomas, 17; and Joe Wood, 16, have each been free on $25,000 bonds since they were booked into and released from the Tulsa Jail as youthful offenders on March 1.
Court minutes initially indicated that each teenager would be arraigned Thursday morning, but on Wednesday each defendant entered a not-guilty plea before Special Judge Dawn Moody, who scheduled their preliminary hearing for April 17 in Special Judge James Keeley’s courtroom.
Moody told the Tulsa World via email Wednesday afternoon that she received a call from one of the teenager’s attorneys asking to have the arraignment early “due to scheduling conflicts.” The arraignment, Moody said, occurred Wednesday morning in open court and not in her chambers.
“I frequently receive requests from attorneys to handle an arraignment a day or two early,” she said. “I try to accommodate the attorneys’ schedules as much as I possibly can regardless of whether or not the case is a misdemeanor or felony.”
Cable’s and Wood’s attorneys, in phone interviews with the World, said such a request is not uncommon, especially when a case is high-profile.
The former players were not listed on Moody’s Wednesday morning docket sheet — a document accessible to the public and typically created before court is in session — as being on schedule for initial arraignment, meaning the public was unaware until a clerk published a summary of the proceedings in their online case record.
Attorney Brett Swab, who represents Cable, said the attorneys’ request was made with consideration of the number of parties involved in the case. He denied claims from spectators that the teens have received preferential treatment so far either in the jail booking or arraignment process.
“For that matter, it (the arraignment) could have been last week or Monday. But we’re all trying to coordinate together and make sure we can accommodate everybody,” Swab said. “The court might not have been able to do it, but they were gracious enough to let us do it.”
He said the attorneys’ priority was simply to get the case set on a schedule to speed up its resolution, telling the World the teens need to be afforded the opportunity to present their evidence promptly.
In response to a question about public skepticism over an earlier arraignment, Wood’s attorney, Paul DeMuro, told the World, “There’s nothing special or unusual or uncommon” about Moody’s decision. He said those who suggest otherwise likely already have a bias against their clients, and he asked the public to wait for all the facts to emerge.
Each former player’s attorney was present during a Friday news conference at attorney Clark Brewster’s office in which they characterized the allegations as false. Brewster, who represents Lakin, went so far as to say when questioned by a World reporter that “there’s no victim” of sexual assault.
DeMuro said then that law enforcement officers used court filings to manipulate the media into providing skewed information.
But the Rogers County District Attorney’s Office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation have stood by their work on the case and are still evaluating whether any adults should be prosecuted.
The Attorney General’s Office assigned Rogers County to the matter after the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office recused itself due to a conflict related to the 16-year-old reported victim’s relationship with the agency.
The 16-year-old said he was raped with a pool cue after a Sept. 27 dinner for the football team’s offensive line. A probable cause affidavit from an OSBI investigator says the teens were playing video games in Joe Wood’s upstairs bedroom when Lakin prevented the victim from leaving.
The investigator wrote that Cable, Lakin, Thomas and Wood “dog-piled” the other 16-year-old, who described being held face up by Lakin while Joe Wood and Thomas forced his legs backward toward his chest, “leaving the victim defenseless while the pool stick was forced” inside him. In the affidavit, the 16-year-old told authorities that he heard one of his assailants call out, “The deeper it goes, the louder he screams.”
Wood’s father, Superintendent Kyle Wood, in whose home the incident is alleged to have taken place, resigned Dec. 19.
Oklahoma’s multicounty grand jury took on the case in January and heard testimony from multiple people with ties to the teenagers, but it has not recommended any indictments, writing in a report that it needed more time to collect evidence.
The jury, which meets for three days per month and looks at multiple unrelated cases at a time, began its work for this month on Tuesday and will recess Thursday afternoon, but no one connected to the Bixby case has been spotted there since January.
The grand jury is expected to conclude its meeting this summer.
Whether the students have been allowed on campus since being charged with the felony remains unclear.
Bixby Public Schools’ Interim Superintendent Lydia Wilson told the World she couldn’t make such information about specific students public but said: “I will say that in general, if a student is charged with a violent crime, it seems it would be in everyone’s best interest to make arrangements that keep him/her from being in the general student population. It is protective for the victim, the accused, and it reduces disruption for all learners.”