Inmate asks for review of life sentence
A woman serving life in prison for a drug conviction is asking the district attorney to review her sentence, because two Tulsa police officers involved in her arrest are charged with planting drugs in other cases.
Sheila Devereux, 47, has asked Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris to review her case, which involved a 2005 conviction for drug trafficking, she told the Tulsa World.
Devereux refused a plea agreement and was convicted on one count of drug trafficking Oct. 24, 2005, Tulsa County District Court records show.
A jury sentenced Devereux to life without parole under the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substance Act, according to her recently denied appeal. With two previous convictions for drug possession, Devereux qualified for a life sentence under the three-strikes law in Oklahoma, records show.
Before her trial, prosecutors offered her a plea deal of seven years in prison, she said.
"I did not take the plea bargain because I was not going to plead guilty to something I did not do," Devereux said. "I knew I could face life in prison but I had faith in the justice system. I now only have faith in God."
In an interview with the World at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Devereux recounted her arrest Jan. 20, 2005, and wept when speaking of being separated from her family.
Dressed in gray prison attire, Devereux said her debt to society should not involve spending her entire life in prison.
In her appeal to Harris' office, she is willing to accept the same or lesser sentence as her codefendant, Earnest Allen Butler, 70, she said.
Butler pleaded guilty to drug trafficking March 15, 2005, and received a 13-year prison term, records show. Butler has a previous drug felony and remains incarcerated with a release date of November 2017, records show.
Before receiving her life sentence, Devereux said she had only spent about six months in prison for previous convictions that resulted in probation.
"My sentence is worse than the (Charles) Manson sentence," said Devereux, a mother of three children.
"I have been a drug abuser, and I have not lived a perfect life, but I am not a drug trafficker. In the past, I have possessed drugs, and I have used drugs, but on the day of my arrest, I was not aware of drugs in that house. I was not high or using drugs."
On Sept. 30, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Devereux's life sentence by denying her request to modify her sentence, records show. Devereux's appeal argued numerous points, including that her sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. The court said: "We find that (her) sentence does not shock the Court's conscience."
After her life sentence was upheld, Devereux's family contacted the World and learned that Harris' office is reviewing the cases of eight current and former Tulsa police officers whose names have surfaced as part of a grand jury looking into police corruption.
Federal indictments have alleged that officers stole drugs and money, planted drugs, falsified search warrants and violated civil rights.
Two officers involved in Devereux's case - Officer Nick DeBruin and retired Officer Harold R. Wells - were indicted July 20 in U.S. District Court.
DeBruin and Wells are charged with theft of U.S. funds, possession of drugs and civil rights violations, in which the officers allegedly planted small amounts of methamphetamine
and crack cocaine
on people, the indictment states. The officers are not accused of wrongdoing in the Devereux case.
The World contacted attorneys representing the officers but received no comment.
Thus far, six former or current police officers and a former federal agent have been charged in the corruption probe. Two additional former officers have admitted stealing drug money and have immunity while they cooperate with prosecutors. Additionally, 21 people have been freed from prison or have had their felony cases dismissed as part of the federal investigation, records show.
On Wednesday, a federal judge threw out the life sentence of Demario T. Harris, 30. He was freed Thursday after serving about five years in prison, records show.
Demario Harris is the second person serving a life sentence to be set free because of involvement of the indicted officers. A federal judge freed DeMarco Deon Williams on April 30. Williams, 35, was serving two life sentences and spent about six years in jail or federal prison before being freed.
In state court, Harris' office or judges have dismissed drug cases or convictions of 10 people, including setting free Parra Nishimoto, who was serving 15 years for drug trafficking.
Case under review
Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond said Devereux's case is being reviewed.
"Her case is on a priority list," Drummond said. "She fits the criteria, but there are other factors we must also review. They include whether or not other officers at the scene can corroborate the facts of the arrest. Just because some of the officers involved in her case are charged in the federal indictment does not mean the case will be automatically dismissed or modified, nor are the officers guilty of any misconduct."
Drummond detailed how Harris' office is prioritizing criminal cases associated with the officers whose names have surfaced in the police investigation.
While the number of cases identified by Harris' office has grown exponentially, only a handful of cases are part of an active priority list, Drummond said.
Currently, about 15 cases involving the officers are under active review. Primarily, these are cases in which officers indicted or mentioned in the federal investigation were significantly involved, and in which the defendants did not accept a plea bargain, Drummond said.
Harris' office is reviewing the cases to see the level of involvement of the indicted officers and if the cases can stand on their own if the officers were not essentially involved in the case, Drummond said.
A second category involves a large number of cases in which little or no action is being taken, due to the number of the cases and available staffing, Drummond said.
"There is a large category of cases in which not a lot is being done," Drummond said. "We have a list of the cases, and we have been contacted by attorneys, family or the defendants themselves in some of the cases, but we cannot shut down our operations to solely address these cases. We have to prioritize them."
Those cases involve people who pleaded guilty and officers who have been indicted or are cooperating with prosecutors, Drummond said.
In Devereux's case, DeBruin is the officer who weighed the cocaine
found in Butler's home, records show.
Wells is listed as the officer who field-tested the drugs to determine if they were illegal substances, records show.
At least two other officers participated in the search warrant, which named Butler and his residence as the focus of the drug bust. Devereux's name was not on the search warrant, and a confidential informant did not mention her presence in the home, records show. Those additional two officers are not accused of wrongdoing.
Officers stated that Devereux was believed to be flushing drugs in the bathroom after they entered the residence, her denied appeal states.
Devereux also allegedly told police that she brought customers to Butler's home to purchase cocaine, the appeal states.
Devereux told the Tulsa World that several statements made by officers involved in her case are untrue.
"I was not flushing drugs down the toilet. I was nude and preparing for a shower for my son's first basketball game. I was trying to get dressed to let the officer into the bathroom," she said.
"I was only staying with him temporarily, because I had no place to stay," she said.
Larry Edwards, a former prosecutor who once placed people like Devereux in prison, said the threshold for trafficking in crack cocaine is too low and needs to be raised.
In state court, 5 grams or more of cocaine base (crack
) qualifies a person for a drug trafficking charge. Police found 6.28 grams of cocaine base hidden in the kitchen ceiling and in a pipe in the bedroom of Butler's house, records show.
On the federal level, beginning Monday, the law governing crack cocaine distribution will be raised to 28 grams from 5 grams for a prison term of five years to 40 years, a federal officials said. For a term of 10 years to life, the amount will be raised to 280 grams from 50 grams.
"The (state) law absolutely needs to be changed because it is too low for trafficking," said Edwards, who served as an assistant district attorney for 14 years and as drug czar in the Tulsa County District Attorney's office.
Devereux said she has remained drug free since Dec. 20, 2004, which is about one month before her arrest, records show.
"My days with drugs are over," Devereux said. "I have always been a good-hearted person but Christ delivered me from addiction
Devereux's oldest son, Tyler, and daughter, Kiersten, have established a Facebook site to garner support for freeing their mother, said Tyler Devereux, an electrical engineering junior at the University of Tulsa. It is called "Help Free Sheila Devereux."
"My kids are great," Sheila Devereux said. "I know I have hurt them, and I know they have been angry at me, and that's only natural given all they have been through. But I love them, and I want to be there for them."
She recently landed a job as a telemarketer, earning prison pay of $1.45 an hour.
With her work located adjacent to the prison, Devereux walks to the job each day, returning to her prison pod after eight hours.
"When you're at work, you can forget you are in prison because you are staying busy," Devereux said. "But then you always come back here. But I have never doubted that I will be freed. God is a just God."