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Oklahoma sex offender suspected of killing 6 was free despite sex crimes charges

How Jesse McFadden was allowed out of prison despite facing new sex crimes charges is among the questions that may prompt state lawmakers to consider new legislation.
The crime scene where the bodies of seven people were found inside a home in Henryetta, Okla.
The crime scene where the bodies of seven people were found inside a home in Henryetta, Okla.KJRH

Jesse McFadden, the convicted rapist who is believed to have killed his wife and five teenagers on his rural Oklahoma property before dying by suicide, was already in state prison in 2017 when he was charged with new sex crimes stemming from his alleged use of a contraband cellphone. But he was released in 2020, and his case languished in the court system for 2½ years.

On Monday, on the same day he was scheduled to appear in a Muskogee County court for the start of a jury trial, investigators looking for two missing teenagers who were last known to be with him executed a search warrant on his property. A local police chief said they made a grim discovery: Each of the seven bodies were shot in the head with a 9 mm pistol.

The sudden tragedy and the chain of events that preceded it has victims' families and state lawmakers asking why McFadden was released if he was facing new sex crime charges allegedly committed while behind bars while serving out a rape sentence, and if the deaths could have been prevented.

"There needs to be repercussions and somebody needs to be held accountable," Justin Webster, the father of Ivy Webster, 14, who had been reported missing and was among the victims, told The Associated Press. "They let a monster out. They did this."

State Rep. Scott Fetgatter, a Republican whose district includes the area south of Tulsa where the killings occurred, said he hopes to introduce a bill this legislative session that would halt the release of inmates before they complete their sentences if they are accused of committing certain sex crimes, such as rape and child sex abuse, while incarcerated.

"At the end of the day, those five children that were murdered in my district should be alive today and, instead, they're not," he said Thursday. "That's my priority: How do I keep this from ever happening again?"

McFadden was convicted in 2003 of first-degree rape and grand larceny and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In court documents, McFadden, then 20, told officials that he was "strung out on dope, vodka" and had "lost control of myself and raped a female friend." He also said he stole $80,000 from his grandfather's safe and "blew it on drugs and unnecessary things."

The female he raped was 17, and he had tied her hands and feet to a bedpost, cut her shirt off with a knife and threatened to use the knife on her "if she did not shut up," prosecutors said in a court filing.

From 2004 to 2010, McFadden was cited seven times for various infractions while in prison, including for having tobacco and engaging in sexual conduct with another inmate, according to his misconduct form.

Then, he was cited once in 2013 and again in 2016 for possessing a cellphone. In December 2016, an audit of the electronic device he allegedly was using revealed "sexually-themed conversations, videos and pictures" with a girl about 16 years old.

An investigation by the state Department of Corrections led prosecutors in Muskogee County to bring charges of child pornography and soliciting sexual conduct/communication with a minor. A preliminary hearing and a trial were rescheduled multiple times.

In the meantime, McFadden was on course to be released under a state law that allows those who commit violent felonies to be set free after serving at least 85% of their sentence. Despite his history of misconduct, he was considered a "level 4" inmate, reserved for those who meet their program requirements and maintain good personal hygiene and a satisfactory relationship with staff and others.

Based on how much prison time he had served, as well as time already served in county jail, McFadden was eligible for release Oct. 30, 2020. After his release, he was arrested the following month on the new charges and jailed for five days before he was let go on a $25,000 bond, records show.

Kay Thompson, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said that even though he was charged while already in prison, he had not yet been convicted, and so he fit the criteria to be released. According to his prison record, he earned his high school equivalency diploma and completed a Bible correspondence course called "A Country Called Heaven" and another 13-week course titled "Cage Your Rage."

Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Edwards did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told the CBS affiliate KOTV-DT in Tulsa that McFadden's case was beset by unexpected delays over the years, including one prosecutor leaving for a new job, another breaking her foot before a scheduled trial date and the Covid pandemic causing a widespread logjam in the legal system.

When McFadden was released, he had technically completed his sentence and was not on probation. But he was still required to register as a sex offender for life and was checking in with the local sheriff's office every 90 days, as required, according to the Department of Corrections. In addition, registered sex offenders can live with children as long as they don’t commit crimes against them.

McFadden was living with his wife, Holly, whom he had married last year, Okmulgee County records show. Holly McFadden's three children — Rylee Allen, 17, Michael Mayo, 15, and Tiffany Guess, 13 — were among the victims.

Ivy and another victim, Brittany Brewer, 15, were friends with Tiffany and routinely slept over at the rental property where the McFaddens lived just outside the small town of Henryetta, the teens' families said.

Authorities said Wednesday that all the victims, as well as McFadden, were shot in the head. A motive was not immediately known.

Brittany's father, Nathan Brewer, previously said that McFadden seemed like a "nice, normal person," but now believes he should have never been released from prison after he was charged in 2017. Officials should be held liable for the victims' deaths, he added.

Holly McFadden's mother has also said that her daughter didn't know "the truth about Jesse McFadden" and that he "fooled her with his charm."

The state had planned to introduce evidence of McFadden's "prior bad acts" at his trial that was set to begin this week. In court documents, the state accused him of sending handwritten letters and text messages to the 16-year-old "in which he not only discussed their relationship but also discussed things of a sexual nature and was manipulative and controlling of the victim."

According to the state, the defense counsel planned to argue that McFadden was in contact not with the teen but with her 21-year-old friend, instead, and that another inmate owned the phone he was allegedly using.

State Rep. Justin Humphrey, a Republican who chairs the Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, said he supports a change in the law that would prevent someone already in prison from being released if they are charged with a sex crime while behind bars.

"Who dropped the ball?" he asked. "Why did the trial take so long and why did they set the bond at what some might consider such a low amount for someone who's been convicted of such a violent crime?"

Dan Medlock, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in Muskogee County, said the bond amount McFadden received is standard in the area.

But Humphrey said a larger look at the state's justice system is warranted when a person accused of committing a sex crime while already in prison can be freed.

"I don't think we need a knee-jerk reaction, but when six people are killed, including children, that has to be something that makes us go to the drawing board and do this thing right and get a system that holds people accountable," he said.