We fight for the rights and opportunities of every Oklahoman.
We fight for the rights and opportunities of every Oklahoman.
THE PODCAST PROFILES THE TULSA TRUE CRIME STORY OF APRIL WILKENS.
This is a podcast about a true crime story unlike any other--only there's no whodunnit, and there's no whydunnit. We know exactly who killed Terry Carlton on April 28th, 1998. And we know exactly why. Because she told us.
EVEN THOUGH SHE'S BEEN TREATED UNFAIRLY BY THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, SHE STILL BELIEVES THE REAL STORY IS WOMEN COMING TOGETHER TO SPEAK OUT FOR EACH OTHER.
On April 25th, 1970, April Fitchue was born in Kellyville, Oklahoma. She attended school in Kellyville, with a small stint at Monte Casino in Tulsa. April received her Bachelor of Science at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma where she studied dietetics. Then April completed the accelerated graduate Prosthetics program at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1990, she met and married Eric Wilkens, son of Roy Wilkens who was the CEO of WilTel Communications (later Williams Company). They had a son, Hunter. April was busy doing her studies in Chicago while Eric completed his undergraduate degree in Stillwater. The long distance nature of their relationship began to wear on them.
April and Eric divorced amicably in 1993 and she had custody of Hunter during the weeks and every other weekend. She was a prosthetist at Snyder Orthotics. There was a brief period when she went to work as the Director of Prosthetics at Sabolich Orthotics in Florida so that she could learn the new prosthetics technologies.
Ultimately she came back to manage her family’s clinic. In 1994, she took over ownership of the clinic which had been in operation since the 1930s. She was designing and manufacturing prosthetics for clients with a wide range of needs. Under April's leadership, services were expanded to include myoelectric arms, immediate postoperative rigid dressings and prostheses, and the addition of a second satellite center, located north of Harrison, Arkansas.
In 1995, April met Terry Carlton at Don Carlton Acura of Tulsa while shopping for a car. The two became engaged within three months. Terry would go on to take April on several lavish trips abroad and the two were set to marry in April 1996. After the engagement, things seemed to change with Terry. April broke off the engagement.
During the years of 1996-1998, Terry perpetrated brutal and horrific abuse, stalking, and sexual assault on April. The abuse led April to self-medicate with drugs. She was committed to Parkside hospital in March and April of 1998 by the Tulsa Police Department.
On April 28th, 1998 April fatally shot Terry in self defense after a harrowing night of abuse and sexual assault. Terry had told April several times he was going to kill her. She was able to hide the gun in a back pocket of her vest so that Terry would not use it on her. When he turned to lunge at her she fired. “There was no choice,” she testified.
District attorney Tim Harris tried April’s case before a jury in April of 1999. His co-counsel was Rebecca Nightengale, a current district court judge in Tulsa County. After a two week trial, April was sentenced to LIFE for premeditated malice aforethought murder.
April was transferred to Mable Bassett Correctional center where she has been ever since. She has completed a number of programs including dog training. Most recently she used her nutrition background to design a nutritional and exercise bootcamp for the women in prison. In her first cohort, the women lost over a hundred pounds combined. The warden and other Oklahoma Department of Corrections employees have asked April to recreate her program at other facilities.
April continues to remain hopeful that justice will be served. She believes that the true story that comes from this tragedy is other women coming together to lift each other up.
In the Spring of 1998, April Wilkens began wearing a panic button around her neck that would trigger her home alarm and alert police from anywhere she happened to be. This was because the abuse from Terry Carlton had gotten so extreme that April did not feel safe even to go about her daily business.
In the early morning hours of April 28th, 1998, April Wilkens shot Terry Carlton eight times. He had raped her earlier in the evening, and was threatening to kill her. April was able to get ahold of a gun as Terry lunged at her. She fired in defense of her life and she stated at trial she “had no choice.”
April was a pacifist and completely against violence of any kind. She even refused to spank her child. Her father gave her some rudimentary firearm instruction and told her, “If you’re shooting to defend yourself, you empty the clip.”
That fateful night of Terry’s death, April went into survival mode and remembered what her father had told her. She shot until the gun would not fire anymore.
Self defense–or justifiable homicide–is acting with deadly force when there is an unprovoked attack upon you that threatens imminent injury or death. The person defending their life must use an objectively reasonable degree of force, and their fear of injury or death must also be objectively reasonable.
Battered Women’s (now: Person’s) Syndrome (BWS) is a psychological determination that is often admitted at trial through expert testimony. BWS is admissible to help the jury understand the battered woman, and, why a defendant acted out of a reasonable belief that she was in imminent danger when considering the issue of self-defense.
BWS is not a “get out of jail free” card for women who have experienced abuse. The expert testimony can be offered for the limited purposes of considering the defendant’s state of mind during the crime.
BWS has become an accepted legal defense in Oklahoma courts since the case of State of Oklahoma v. Bechtel in 1991.
We estimate about 500 women who could be directly affected by this issue. However, we are still working to gather names and case details.
New York recently passed a bill called the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA). This bill allows people who have suffered abuse and then committed a crime related to that abuse to apply for sentencing relief. A woman, Nikki Adimando, who killed her husband after years of covert abuse, was recently resentenced from 19 years-LIFE to 7 years. April could recieve the same consideration if a bill like the DVSJA were passed here.
April testified in her own defense from the stand for three days. She waived her 5th Amendment right against self incrimination and subjected herself to rigorous cross examination in order to tell the jury what happened. This is incredibly rare for a defendant to do in a murder case.
Yes. Here are just some of the ways the Department of Justice has adjusted their advice to law enforcement and prosecutors dealing with Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence since April’s case:
There are several legal errors that happened at April’s trial:
1) April’s Battered Women’s Syndrome expert, Dr. John Call, testified that in his opinion her actions were not reasonable. April’s attorney had not read or briefed his own expert’s report.
2) April’s defense attorney did not contact key witnesses involved in the trial like then Magistrate Judge Claire Egan, or Mike Cooke, managing partner at Hall Estill, who both had intimate knowledge of Mr. Carlton’s abuse.
3) April’s attorney did minimal investigation or pre-trial prep of his client or of his witnesses.
4) April’s attorney did not offer an instruction on manslaughter, which would’ve allowed the jury to consider a lesser sentence.
5)There were also issues of miranda violations and a coerced confession by the Tulsa Police.
During the period leading up to the murder, April was committed to Parkside mental hospital and Eastern State Hospital in Vinita, OK. There she was diagnosed with bipolar personality disorder with psychotic tendencies. She was prescribed and dosed with psychotropic drugs.
Previous to the abuse, April had never been diagnosed with a mental illness. She was briefly treated for anorexia nervosa as a teenager. Since being at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, April has ceased taking any psychiatric medications, and she is not on the record for being treated for any mental illnesses in prison.
April’s therapist while in the Tulsa County Jail, Linda Driskell, believed that April was misdiagnosed at Parkside–that she truly was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the repeated physical, emotional, and psychological abuse committed on her by Terry Carlton.
One of the most important reasons women don’t leave is because it can be incredibly dangerous. The fear that women feel is very real – there is a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation. Every time April tried to leave Terry, his violence escalated. In February 1998, after leaving him yet again, he arrived at her house with a loaded and chambered Glock 9mm pistol.
Domestic abuse often relies on isolating the victim: the perpetrator works to weaken her connections with family and friends, making it extremely difficult to seek support. Perpetrators will often try and reduce a woman’s contact with the outside world to prevent her from recognizing that his behavior is abusive and wrong. Isolation leads women to become extremely dependent on their controlling partner. Terry had begun calling and contacting all of April’s friends, telling them that any communication to her needed to go through him. At the same time, Terry was calling the hospital where April was being held and telling her that no one else but him cared to check on her.
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