A Death Row Convict’s Final Words Set Two Innocent Men Free
Police said Malcolm and De’Marchoe killed a young mom in a drive-by. They were going to spend life in prison, until witnesses spoke up and a convicted killer came clean.
TULSA, Oklahoma—De’Marchoe Carpenter was running out of time.
He’d lost an appeal, Oklahoma’s governor twice denied him parole, and his post-conviction lawyers had just informed him that a key witness died of kidney failure. They were forced to mothball his case. But here Carpenter was, waiting among a flock of prisoners in a penitentiary gymnasium with a heart full of hope.
It was June 2013, and Carpenter and his childhood friend Malcolm Scott had spent 19 years—their entire adult lives—behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit. And the man who did do it, the only man who could corroborate their innocence to a world that seemed to have forgotten them, was scheduled to be executed in six months.
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Carpenter stood by as a cluster of inmates browsed a table of children’s books. When their names were called, the men entered a classroom one by one, to be videotaped by a nonprofit that delivers messages to families of the incarcerated. As part of the project, the men read stories aloud to their kids and sent I-love-you’s through the camera.
Dressed in his blue-gray prison smock, Carpenter was nervous but determined. He didn’t pick a paperback this year because this time, he was crafting another message. He locked eyes on the lens and said, “My name is De’Marchoe Carpenter. I’m 36. I have a life sentence plus 170 years for a murder I did not commit.
“The culprits who actually committed this crime is on death row. Two of three has since come forward, but here I am still here,” Carpenter added, before desperately rattling off a list of boldfaced names who might help him: President Obama, Russell Simmons, Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Grace. The video would later be uploaded to YouTube under the title, “Tulsa Man Fights for His Innocence.” It even aired on a local TV station.
The 6-foot-3 inmate secretly made a second video using a cellphone, risking punishment from detention officers. His cellmate recorded the footage, and Carpenter mailed an SD card to his family. “I’m in prison for a murder I didn’t do,” Carpenter pleaded, as the din of male voices crept into the backdrop. “I’ve been in here, trapped like an animal in a cage for a crime I didn’t do.
“Someone please help me.”
De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott were 17 years old when Tulsa police arrested them in connection to a gang-related shooting that killed 19-year-old Karen Summers, the mother of a 4-month-old baby, outside a house party on Sept. 10, 1994.
Neither teen was found with the murder weapon or the getaway car. Their fingerprints weren’t found on the gun, and cops never checked for their prints inside the vehicle, a maroon Ford Taurus. No DNA linked them to the crime at all.
Two eyewitnesses who placed them at the scene, and who provided inconsistent statements to investigators, later recanted. Their testimonies were crucial, as prosecutors had no physical evidence tying Scott and Carpenter to the murder. In affidavits, the witnesses claimed detectives had coerced their testimony by threatening them with charges.
Meanwhile, one day after Summers’ death, a Tulsa homicide supervisor visited Michael Lee Wilson, a known member of the Bloods, at his mother’s home. Wilson had been shot in the leg by rival Crips just three days before. The cop found Wilson with a Lorcin pistol—the same gun that killed Summers—and the maroon Ford Taurus.
Wilson had the murder weapon, the car, and the motive.
Yet he was never detectives’ main suspect. Instead, Tulsa cops seemed determined to put Carpenter and Scott away for the crime. They were arrested and charged 10 days before ballistics testing on Wilson’s gun was even completed.
When the teens went on trial in November 1995, the prosecution called Wilson as a witness but he proved to be uncooperative, answering every question with, “I don’t recall,” and prompting the judge to hold him in contempt.
During the three-day trial, the district attorney relied on witnesses who couldn’t keep their stories straight—and allegedly, according to Scott’s trial attorney, failed to notify the defense of conflicting statements. The teens’ public defenders never called witnesses who knew of Wilson’s potential involvement, including Billy Alverson, one of the passengers in Wilson’s car who offered to come clean.
The jury deliberated for nine hours. Carpenter and Scott, who hadn’t even graduated high school, were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on the murder conviction, plus 170 years for two counts of shooting with intent to kill, and one count of using a vehicle to facilitate the discharge of a weapon.
They didn’t see the outside world again for almost 22 years, until May 9, 2016, when a judge ruled they’d been wrongfully convicted.
Prosecutors offered Wilson—who was arrested weeks after the Summers drive-by—a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Carpenter and Scott. He was released on $5,000 bond. While he was free, he brutally butchered Richard Yost, a night clerk at a Tulsa convenience store in February 1995. That crime was so heinous that Wilson and his co-defendant Billy Alverson both received the death penalty.
Days before Wilson was set to die by lethal injection in 2011, he provided a videotaped confession to the Oklahoma Innocence Project. In the footage, he claimed that he was the one who killed Summers, and that he’d allowed cops to suspect Scott and Carpenter.
“They just let me go,” Wilson said. “So to this day, I don’t know how my name—I don’t know how my name got brought to the police’s attention, but all I know is I had a murder weapon on me and they let me go.”
Wilson said his friends and co-defendants in the Yost killing, Alverson and Richard Harjo, were riding in the maroon Ford Taurus as he sprayed the bullets outside the party, killing Summers and injuring two others. (Both Alverson and Harjo provided written statements confessing to being in the vehicle as well.)
And when Wilson was strapped to the gurney to die for his crimes, he used his last words to set the record straight: “Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter are innocent,” Wilson declared minutes before his execution.
Carpenter and Scott were released from prison more than two years later in May 2016. Now 40 years old, they have begun the process of rebuilding two lost decades.
Many disturbing questions remain about their convictions. Why did the police never suspect Wilson was the shooter? What made them fixate on Carpenter and Scott and ignore their potential alibis? Did they coerce witnesses?
Were Scott and Carpenter the only ones to fall victim to the Tulsa police department’s incompetence—or worse—in the early ’90s?
Who Killed Karen Summers?
On a foggy Friday night, Malcolm Scott rode his bike to his buddy De’Marchoe Carpenter’s house to hang out with some girls.
The teenagers loafed around the porch of a tiny, ramshackle two-bedroom house, chatting up Melissa and her friend Francine. Carpenter wanted to introduce Francine to Scott and was hoping they’d hit it off.
Carpenter’s younger brother, James, was outside, too, being nosey and tagging along with the older kids. The boys’ mother, Pamela, watched TV in her bedroom, keeping an eye on them through the window. That night, she ordered her children to stay home, worried over of a spate of violence in their neighborhood. “She said, ‘Don’t go nowhere tonight. I have a bad feeling,’” Carpenter recalled to The Daily Beast.
Earlier that evening, cops had pulled over Carpenter and Scott near the Apache Manor housing projects. It was about 7 p.m. and Scott was caught driving without a license and taken to the station. Officers left Carpenter behind, and he waited for his mom to give him a lift home.
Authorities were on alert at the Apache projects. The night before, a teenager had shot and killed a 45-year-old security guard as he locked a pedestrian gate. James E. Lawrence, who worked for a private firm, was found lying in a puddle near his patrol car, and cops had no suspects in his murder. But they thought Scott knew something about it.
Detectives impounded Scott’s car and questioned him about the Apache slaughter. “They weren’t looking at me for it,” Scott recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast. “They wanted me to tell them who did it.”
Scott had been visiting the complex because a girl he was dating lived there. “They took me down to the station and said, ‘Who did it? We know it had something to do with some Crips or something like that,’” Scott told The Daily Beast. He says he told cops he didn’t know anything, but that “they were really pissed.”
Cops released Scott around 10:30 p.m. that night, police records show. His aunt picked him up and transported him to another aunt’s house for some barbecue. Around 11:30 or midnight, Scott hopped on his bike to Carpenter’s house.
Carpenter, a lanky basketball player at 6-foot-3, was goofy, energetic, and the oldest of three children—the man of the house since his father wasn’t around. Scott was shorter and stockier, at 5-foot-6 and 200 pounds, a football and wrestling star with a more serious, reflective demeanor. He was from a big family, one of 13 children, and the first child born to his mother’s second husband.
Both Carpenter and Scott insist they stayed out of trouble that night. After Scott arrived around 12:45 p.m., Carpenter asked his mother if he could go to the QuikTrip on Harvard Avenue and Apache Street, less than a mile from his house.
Pamela was reluctant because of the shooting at Apache Manor, which was also a short distance from their home. But Carpenter was persuasive. “He asked my mama, could he go to the QuikTrip?” recalls his brother James, who goes by the nickname J.T.
Sometime between 1:30 and 2 a.m., Carpenter and his friends drove to the QuikTrip in Melissa’s mother’s car, a white Chevy Lumina. “He went to the Quick Trip and back,” J.T. remembers. “It wasn’t nothing—five to seven minutes, tops.”
While at the store, the boys ran into Michael Lee Wilson, a childhood acquaintance. A 19-year-old father-to-be, Wilson was a Blood and worked at another QuikTrip. A few days before, Wilson had been shot at the home of Tonya Holt, his girlfriend and the mother of his child. In an affidavit years later, Holt said she lived in a Crip neighborhood and knew the shooting was “gang-related.” But she “did not know that Michael was involved in any gang activity,” she wrote, adding that Wilson’s older brother was an incarcerated gangster back then.
Holt “was always kept in the dark” regarding Wilson’s friends. He would refer to her as his “associate” instead of his girlfriend. Wilson “said he didn’t want anyone to know who I was so they wouldn’t hurt me,” Holt wrote.
Wilson was always with Billy Alverson and Richard Harjo, she said. They were like the Three Musketeers. Wilson would pick them up in his car and be gone for hours. “It was never clear what they did when they were together because Wilson never told me anything bad he did,” Holt said in the 2014 affidavit.
The trio was all together in Wilson’s rental car when Scott and Carpenter arrived to the QuikTrip, according to all parties involved.
Wilson told police that he chatted with Scott and Carpenter around 2 a.m., and that they were driving with two women in a white, four-door Lumina with red trimming. Scott was wearing a light Tommy Hilfiger shirt and dark shorts, while Carpenter “had a fancy shirt on,” Wilson said.
Tulsa police detective Gary Meek later asked Wilson, “Did you have some conversation with [Carpenter] about guns?” to which Wilson replied, “Just some bullets.” Wilson said that Carpenter had asked for some .38-caliber bullets, and that he handed Carpenter four or five. Wilson said his mother gave him a gun to protect himself after he got shot in the leg. (Carpenter denied asking for or taking any ammunition from Wilson.)
“They had two girls with ’em,” Wilson continued, when asked about Scott and Carpenter’s evening plans. “They was gonna be with these girls tonight.”
The acquaintances parted ways, and Wilson claimed he returned to his mother’s home before 2:30 a.m. to meet his girlfriend. Wilson told Meek he didn’t go out again, and didn’t loan his car or his gun to anyone, police records show.
Scott remembers exiting the convenience store when Wilson and his crew pulled in. Wilson was limping and told Carpenter that he’d been shot. According to Scott and Carpenter, Wilson announced he wanted to get even with those who fired at him. The friends thought little of this encounter and returned to Carpenter’s house.
In his deathbed video confession, Wilson corroborated this, saying, ‘We were talking, like, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Oh, nothing much. I’m just—I’m out looking for revenge. I’m out to shoot some Crabs because that’s who shot me.’”
Back at Carpenter’s place, Melissa and Francine left, and around 3 a.m., Scott biked to an Apache Manor party to see a girl he liked. He signed in with a security guard. “When you’re a visitor you gotta always sign in and show ID, whose house you’re going to,” Scott told The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, Carpenter was turning in for the night.
“I ended up going in the house,” he remembers, “talking to my brother, then going to sleep.”
But Carpenter was jolted awake around 4:15 a.m., when someone shot up his mother’s house.
Police took a statement from his mother, Pamela, but no one was ever charged in the drive-by. Pamela said someone fired several rounds into her bedroom. She didn’t see any vehicle in the area but suspected gang retaliation against her son.
“She went on to say that her son [De’Marchoe] Carpenter was trying to get out of the gang,” an officer wrote, “but she thinks that someone wants her son dead.”
About 4 miles and a 10-minute drive west, members of the Crips gang converged on the 200 block of E. 29th Street North. The house party was advertised in flyers distributed around a local high school.
Karen Lashawn Summers had just gone to the Wave Link nightclub with three girlfriends. Around 2:30 a.m., the girls cruised to the Crip party in Summers’ Pontiac. When they arrived, they stayed outside, where about 15 others had gathered in the street. They weren’t feeling it and planned to split. “We stayed at the party no longer than 15 minute before we decided to leave,” one friend, Kayla Townsell, told police in a statement.
Summers, called “Shawn” by those who loved her, parked her car across from the party and sat on the hood. Her friend Jaynie Jones told cops that some boys were drunk outside and lighting Giorgio cologne samples on fire. “We got out… and a couple of guys came over and started throwing perfume and stuff on the ground… [and] started lighting it,” Jones said in a police interview. “So that’s when we decided, you know, we were ready to go, because they were drunk and acting silly or whatever.”
In an interview with Detective Gary Meek, Jones said Summers wasn’t in school but stayed home with her little boy. Meek asked the grieving friend whether Summers was seeing any guys at the party, and Jones said no.
“Karen was everybody’s best friend, really. She really was. She got along with everybody. She wasn’t claiming any type of set at all,” Jones told Meek, referring to gang affiliation. “She just… she just like to have fun.”
As she leaned against her car, Summers chatted up a 19-year-old gangster named Rashun Williams—who would become one of the state’s star witnesses against Scott and Carpenter. Williams, called “Rawbeanie” by friends and cops alike, later testified that Summers was “supposed to be hooking me up with one of her homegirls in the car I was asking her about.”
Kendra Pettigrew, who wasn’t feeling well, sat in the front seat with her head in her lap. She kept saying, “Get in the car. I’m ready to go,” Jones recalled.
Rawbeanie was joking around with Summers when a burgundy vehicle passed by, he said. Minutes later, around 2:45 a.m., the car turned around and passed them again. This time, a passenger shouted, “Hey, Blood,” and sprayed bullets just as Townsell and Jones were getting in Summers’ car to leave.
He told police that Summers stumbled toward him and that he rolled on top of her before moving her onto a lawn, away from the street. He got up and raised his .22-caliber revolver, returning fire.
In one of his first police statements, Rawbeanie told officer R.G. Stiles that a red four-door Ford Escort drove past. The vehicle had tinted windows, he said, and was followed by a brown car and a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass or Monte Carlo.
Rawbeanie told Stiles the suspects were “Malcolm” and “Marco” and that he could identify them both. “He said that he did not see them, but recognized the car which had dark tinted windows,” Stiles wrote in her report. She interviewed him at the hospital, less than an hour after the shooting but was never called to testify at trial.
It’s unclear why Rawbeanie suspected “Malcolm” and “Marco” might be behind the Summers shooting. Perhaps it stemmed from a gang fight almost one year before, when violence between the Bloods and the Crips broke out at a high school basketball game. Rawbeanie and Price were on one side, and Scott was on the other, noted a gang intelligence report by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
Stiles, in a 2014 affidavit, said an investigator for Scott and Carpenter showed her Wilson’s statements on driving a maroon rental car that night. “I immediately questioned the ID of the red Ford Escort by Rashun Williams from my report as it is my opinion that rental cars would not have dark tinted windows,” she said.
Rawbeanie would recant his trial testimony in 2010, saying he read a newspaper article about Carpenter’s fight for innocence and wanted to correct his “huge mistake.” “I was a witness on behalf of the state and I testified against him but the truth of the matter is I don’t know if he actually committed the shooting,” he said in an affidavit.
Tulsa police coerced him, he claimed, and warned him that if he didn’t testify, he’d be charged with Summers’ murder himself.
Kenneth Price, another key witness for the state who recanted years later, initially told officers he was milling outside near Summers’ car when he heard gunfire, and turned to see a “kinda goldish orange” two-door vehicle. “I didn’t see who was in the car, ’cause by back was turned,” Price told Detective Meek.
Price, who told police he was a 107 Hoover Crip, was shot in the buttocks as he fled the rapid fire of bullets. Alonzo Johnson, who was shot in the arm, also was unable to identify who was in the vehicle.
According to Jones, “Rawbeanie had grabbed Karen and threw her behind him,” then returned fire at the two-door Cutlass. “I heard somebody moaning and screaming and crying, so I ran back around to the front of the car, and they… the gunshots were still going on, and that’s when I seen a blue Cutlass passing by,” Jones told police.
“Everybody just ran away from Karen, and nobody was helping me put her in the car,” Jones continued. She didn’t know where Summers was hit, and all the while Townsell was screaming in terror from the back seat.
“They put her in [my] car, and [Rawbeanie] said, ‘I know who it is.’ He said, ‘I’m getting Malcolm.’ He said, ‘This is the last time this is happening.’ … And they just got in the car and left,” Jones said in her police interview.
Jones floored it to the hospital, where Summers was pronounced dead on arrival. She’d been shot in the back, the bullet piercing her chest and abdomen. An autopsy revealed a bullet perforated her abdominal aorta.
At the hospital, Jones said, Rawbeanie claimed he saw De’Marchoe Carpenter driving and that he was “gonna get Malcolm.”
For her part, Jones never saw who was inside the car, let alone who fired the bullets. “We had no idea, this was a Crip party,” she said. “I didn’t know there was a bulletin going around,” she added, referring to the flier that had advertised the event far and wide.
Carpenter and Scott say they had several potential alibis the night that Karen Summers was shot to death.
Scott’s defense attorney, Michael Harris, filed an exhibit list that included the “Contact log maintained by the security of Apache Manor.” He also named one witness who was never called to testify: the custodian of records security of Apache Manor, who would “verify that the defendant was present at the apartments the night in question.”
Harris never presented testimony by Angie Landrum, the girl Scott visited at 3 a.m. at the Apache Manor party and who said she was with him the evening of Sept. 9 and early morning of the 10th, and Melissa Shields, who was with Carpenter the night of the crime, despite listing both women as witnesses before trial.
When asked about the alibis, Harris told The Daily Beast that Tulsa prosecutors were trying to pin the Apache Manor guard slaying on Scott. Harris didn’t want the sign-in sheets to implicate Scott in a second murder.
The lawyer described Landrum and Shields as “unreliable narrators” when he interviewed them. The women, in private interviews with Harris, “didn’t seem to be falling all over themselves to help either one of them.” He said Landrum and Shields mentioned being “uncomfortable” with the co-defendants, and he didn’t want to put them on the stand.
“They weren’t strong witnesses in my opinion,” Harris says.
Police reports show Landrum called the department shortly after Scott was arrested for Summers’ murder. Landrum told cops she was Scott’s girlfriend, and that he rode his bike to her house at about 3 a.m. and stayed with her until “mid-morning Saturday.”
Other missed opportunities plagued the case. The day after the drive-by, Michael Wilson told an acquaintance about his involvement in the shooting as the man came to his house to buy some speakers. In a 2001 affidavit, Danny Ogans said a limping Wilson told him he’d been shot by some Crips but that “it was cool, because he blasted some of them who were at a party by his homeboy Billy Alverson’s house.”
Ogans encountered Wilson in the county jail months later. “I asked him why was he in there,” Ogan said in the affidavit. “Wilson stated [that] he had beat one murder case but now had another one.” Wilson allegedly told Ogans that police thought Carpenter and Scott were the culprits in the first murder, and they’d have to take the fall.
“I ran into Malcolm Scott while in county jail and informed him of both conversations I had with Wilson,” Ogans continued. “Malcolm Scott asked me if I would be willing to testify on his behalf in his trial. I told him I would.”
Scott’s attorney spoke to Ogans, but didn’t call him as a witness. Tulsa police and the DA never contacted him.
Even the driver of the maroon Ford offered to testify on Scott and Carpenter’s behalf. “Before his trial I had a conversation with Carpenter,” Billy Alverson claimed in a 2010 affidavit. “I told him to call me as [a] witness and I would tell the court they were not involved, but I was never called.”
Carpenter and Scott say they were cheated out of a good defense simply for being too poor to hire more than a public defender.
“We had several alibis and somehow the DA made it: ‘They’re just lying for them because they’re friends,” Scott told The Daily Beast.
Police had been monitoring Scott and Carpenter for years before the Summers’ shooting.
In the late 1980s, the gang violence plaguing Los Angeles migrated to smaller western cities like Seattle, Phoenix and Denver, as the Bloods and the Crips looked to expand their crack cocaine operations. Tulsa was no exception.
To battle the proliferation of gangs in North Tulsa, where a majority of the city’s African-American population lives, Tulsa authorities kept a database of gang members—with their street names, known associates and priors.
One report from the Tulsa County Gang Intervention Team listed Malcolm Scott’s high school and Blood affiliation. It also noted an October 1992 arrest for gun possession, where Scott “admitted his gang involvement with the Red Mob Gangster set of the Bloods” when found with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol.
In one report, a Tulsa cop wrote that Scott’s “brother is Corey Aitchison who was a RMG [Red Mob Gangster], now doing life for murder” and that Scott “stated that he was carrying the weapon for protection because they were having trouble with the ‘Hoovers.’”
Scott’s older brother, Corey Atchison, was 20 years old when he was convicted of murder in 1991. He’s serving a life sentence for the slaying of 29-year-old James Warren Lane, who was shot once in the chest. A witness, who was a Crip, told police that a group of Bloods attacked Lane on the street, and that he saw Atchison shoot him.
Last week, Atchison filed his own application for post-conviction relief in Tulsa County, alleging he was convicted based off coerced testimony. Two witnesses, who were interviewed by Detective Meek, recanted their statements on the stand.
Scott’s mother didn’t want him to end up like Corey. So when Scott was 15, she sent him to North Carolina to live with his sister and her Marine husband on a military base. He said his mother “was trying to get me away from all this stuff that was going on” because “she was seeing me follow into my older brother’s footsteps.” But he missed his life in Tulsa and returned—a decision that now haunts him.
“Probably should have stayed,” Scott says now. “I think about that all the time.”
Not long after he returned to Tulsa, Scott was blasted in a drive-by shooting that nearly claimed his friend De’Marchoe Carpenter’s life.
The friends were chasing girls at a local party spot, the Wagon Wheel, when someone fired an assault rifle at the building. Carpenter, then 16, was exiting the restaurant when bullets pierced his arm and torso. Scott remembers the triggerman continuing to fire even after Carpenter collapsed in the doorway. Eight others were also injured in the incident, which police suspected to be gang-related.
Scott, who was shot in the leg, rushed Carpenter to the hospital. It didn’t look like his pal would survive. “I’m trying to keep from freaking out. This is my friend. I don’t want him to die,” Scott recalls. “There was blood all over the back seat. It was really bad.”
Carpenter remembers the bullets burning his skin like hot steel, and a voice telling him to stay awake. “Don’t go to sleep. Listen to my voice,” Carpenter recalled someone telling him. That someone was Scott, and he saved his friend’s life.
Gunshots brutalized Carpenter’s organs. He needed a colostomy bag for a year and had a tracheostomy, and for a while was bedridden and shedding weight. He bears a scar on his head from lying on his back for so long, and his stomach is pocked and gnarled from his wounds. He had to relearn to walk.
The night Karen Summers was shot, Carpenter says he was still recovering and had a colostomy bag attached to his abdomen.
A gang unit report, following Carpenter’s arrest, noted his injuries from the Wagon Wheel incident: a colostomy bag; surgical scars in his left arm, where doctors placed pins; and a scar on his throat from a tracheostomy tube.
The Gang Intervention team also had a file on Carpenter. “Carpenter openly admitted to being a RMG,” Tulsa County deputy Ernestine Truewell wrote in a report days after Summers’ death. Carpenter first came to the unit’s attention during a gang fight at an all-city football game in August of 1993, the report said.
But when asked about his gang affiliation, Carpenter denied being a Red Mob Gangster to The Daily Beast: “I was hanging out with guys who I considered my friends… coming from where we come from, it’s dangerous out here with gangs and drugs.”
Certain neighborhoods were dominated by certain colors. Carpenter said he was ambushed walking home from school because he wore blue—his school colors—in a red area. “Guys jumped on me because I was wearing blue. They said, “Don’t wear blue in this neighborhood,’” Carpenter told The Daily Beast.
Both Scott and Carpenter admit to yielding to peer pressure and joining the wrong crowd. “My biggest influence was my older brother. He was being respected in the hood. I was following into that crowd right there with him. That’s how I ended up in that life, just basically following in his footsteps,” Scott told The Daily Beast.
Eric Cullen, a private investigator who’s worked on Scott and Carpenter’s case since 2006, said they had a typical North Tulsa childhood.
“These guys weren’t choir boys. They really had great moms and what not. But still, they were affiliated with the Bloods,” Cullen told The Daily Beast. “So, they were typical teenage boys. For 1994, they were typical North Tulsa 17-year-old males.
“I don’t know how else to say it. If you weren’t in a gang, you probably knew someone in a gang. It was just the culture at the time,” he added.
The city’s internal gang files mirrored worries in the local press.
One March 1991 article in the Tulsa World described a woman buying a gun and booby-trapping her basement to stop gangsters from breaking into her home, and Tulsa residents burdened by stray bullets and daytime drug deals where children played.
At the time, a Tulsa County Sheriff's Deputy named Lance Ramsey told the paper that Tulsa’s gang members numbered in the hundreds and were constantly changing their boundaries and affiliations. “Tulsa could be as bad as Los Angeles, on a smaller scale” unless action is taken, Ramsey said.
Yet the issue of gangs seemed to cause a rift in Tulsa’s law enforcement community. In May 1990, former police chief Drew Diamond called Tulsa’s gangs “mostly media driven.”
“I don’t want to talk about gangs,” Diamond said at the time. “I want to talk about the individuals who are conspiring to commit the crimes. I don't care about gangs. If you deal with gangs, you give them power.”
Diamond, an expert on community policing, told The Daily Beast that elected officials and some police officers in Tulsa wanted a war on gangs in the 1990s, “which essentially was to take on young black men.”
“What happens in racially-divided cities like Tulsa, you have to pick an enemy. The enemy those days were black men,” said Diamond, who recently delivered a TEDx talk on ending racially biased policing.
Diamond, under mounting political pressure—including a no-confidence vote from the police union—retired in 1991. “Part of my reputation is that I denied there were gangs, and because I didn’t take strong actions against gangs in the late ’80s and early ’90s, this is why it’s all bad today,” Diamond said.
The progressive former chief says he refused to form a gang unit. “I formed neighborhood policing teams with officers and social workers. I designed patrol operations around community policing,” Diamond said. “Within a year after I left, they had a gang unit and jumpout [officers] doing stop-and-frisk.”
When asked whether Tulsa was in the throes of a gang hysteria, Diamond replied, “It wasn’t hysteria. It was a politically-driven sense of who to blame on anything that happened in the city. You demonize young black men and then you say, ‘go get them.’”
Still, some of the rank-and-file appeared to disagree.
Police detective Mike Huff, who arrested Wilson after Karen Summers was killed, told The Daily Beast that the city was “infected” with gangs, “and at the same time the chief of police said we’re not even going to refer to these guys as gangs.”
Huff was once Tulsa police’s lead homicide investigator. He made a name for himself after investigating a mob hit on Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler, who was shot to death in 1981 outside a country club. Huff, who investigated the murder for two decades, eventually learned that a retired FBI agent helped to orchestrate the rubout, which had been ordered by the infamous James “Whitey” Bulger.
“The only booming industry in North Tulsa is the damn funeral home,” Huff said in a phone call last month. “Everything else has gone bankrupt up there.
“It was a tough job,” Huff said of his role as a homicide supervisor. “Nobody [in North Tulsa] wants to stand up and say, ‘These people did it.’ It’s not because they just don’t want to. They’re scared to death to do it. How can you blame them? They’re trapped.”
Tulsa police Captain Van Ellis, who worked Tulsa’s gang unit for 12 years starting in 1994, said the crack cocaine trade contributed to the spread of gang culture in North Tulsa and across other cities like Phoenix, Albuquerque and Dallas. “It was a big enough problem that we formed a full-time unit,” Ellis said.
While Ellis didn’t work on the Summers investigation, he remembers her death escalating tensions between rival gangs. “There were some major events, some of which were murders or shootings, that people who were affiliated with gangs remembered and would be catalysts for other events,” Ellis told The Daily Beast.
“It was a history that people knew,” Ellis continued. “Some of those old events add to the rivalries or the feuds that was going on at the time.”
Summers’ murder, Ellis said, seemed like it “kept on the minds of people involved in gangs for some time after that.”
In November of 1995, during Scott and Carpenter’s trial, prosecutors painted a picture of Tulsa gang violence run amok.
In court testimony, the teenagers were referred to by their street names: “Loco” for Carpenter and “Dirty Mac” for Scott.
Prosecutors set the stage by calling Darrell Benson, a 25-year-old serving time for the possession of stolen property. Benson said he wasn’t in a gang but did “affiliate” with the Hoover 107 Crips and knew of Malcolm Scott.
Benson testified that he saw Scott at the Apache Manor apartments on Sept. 9, 1994. He told cops that he overheard Scott say he was “going to handle business at a Crip party” later that night. But under further questioning, Benson admitted, “I can’t be for sure because I actually didn’t see him.”
A review of court transcripts shows prosecutors then presented information about an unrelated fight that occurred hours before Summers was shot.
Scherrie Shaw, an 18-year-old high school senior, testified that she saw a flier for the party where Summers died. Shaw and her friend gave a male classmate, a Crip named Thomas McClendon, a ride to the party. But when they got there, McClendon snatched the tape deck from her car.
She got out of her vehicle, and people at the party were angry that she was wearing a red school uniform. “I didn’t even mean nothing by it, I just had it on,” Shaw testified. She said Ernestine Truewell, a gang investigator with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, helped her retrieve her tape deck so she could leave.
Indeed, Summers’ story and the heartbreak of her family was hardly told at a trial that focused on gang rivalries. “We don't have want-to-be’s any more,” Truewell testified on her dossier of gang members. “If they keep in contact or keep in company with gang members, we consider them as gonna-be’s.”
Defense attorneys didn’t challenge Truewell’s qualifications as an expert witness, allowing her testimony to suggest that to become a certified gang member, people “have to commit a crime that’s gang related, upon another gang, such as a rival gang, such as Red Mob Gangsters on 107 Hoovers … or commit a felony crime or murder or something of that sort.” (In court papers, the Oklahoma Innocence Project said the defense's failure to request a hearing to determine Truewell's expertise deprived Scott and Carpenter of a fair trial.)
Malcolm Scott’s attorney accused prosecutors of “turning loose and turning this into a class on gangsterism.” At the bench, Michael Harris warned the judge that the DA wasn’t sticking to the facts of the homicide and instead was “getting into psychological things that really aren't a part of this case.”
The judge called a recess and warned assistant DA Michelle Keely she was veering dangerously close to a mistrial. He told Keely not to ask Truewell whether Carpenter and Scott were “certified gang members,” because such testimony would imply they committed “prior bad acts” when prosecutors had no evidence they did.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Harris accused the district attorney’s office of stoking the fears of “gang hysteria” during trial. “They were young black men,” Harris said of Carpenter and Scott. “That was enough of a crime in Tulsa.”
Assistant District Attorney Mark Collier warned jurors of a gang war in his opening arguments. “This case is different than many cases in that I’m not sure we’re going to be able to prove or know when this story actually started,” Collier told a jury that had only one black resident—a jury makeup that apparently wasn’t uncommon for Tulsa at the time.
“What’s we’re going to be showing you is that the two defendants in this case… are members of a gang, the Red Mob Gangsters. That they have a rival gang here in this town, a Crip gang called the Hoover Street Crips.
“And these two gangs are in a war.”
When asked about Scott and Carpenter’s trial, Collier told The Daily Beast it was a difficult case to try and echoed his statements from two decades before. “Look, man, you’re dealing with all gang members in a gang shooting in a gang war,” Collier said, adding that gang-related shootings were rampant at the time.
The former prosecutor denied Rawbeanie, Price or any other witnesses had been coerced.
“All these people know each other. They’re in rival gangs that hate each other. So who did it?” Collier said. “The only evidence is Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter. All evidence points to them.”
Trial and Error
The day after Karen Summers was shot and killed, Tulsa police officer Mike Huff visited Michael Wilson at his mother’s home.
Huff, the nightshift supervisor for homicides, found Wilson in the driveway near a maroon 1994 Ford Taurus—which matched descriptions of the vehicle used in the drive-by. The cop testified that he wanted to talk to Wilson “about a couple of shooting incidents at the time,” at the request of Detective Gary Meek, who was in charge of the Summers’ murder probe.
Wilson agreed to accompany Huff to the station, but asked to phone his mother first and swap the slippers he was wearing for a pair of shoes. Huff followed Wilson down a hallway and into a bedroom, where he sat on a bed and laced hisup some hightops. “I saw his hand going up underneath his shirt and taking something from his waistband,” Huff testified. Wilson was trying to hide a gun underneath the sheets.
The cop drew his weapon and ordered Wilson back from the bed, then retrieved a dark, .38-caliber Lorcin and placed it in a sack to take into evidence.
When pressed at the trial by De’Marchoe Carpenter’s defense attorney, Stephen Sewell, Huff said cops wanted to speak to Wilson for intel on recent gun violence, but that Wilson “was not wanted for shootings at that time.”
While Wilson was being interviewed, Huff obtained a search waiver for the maroon Ford. Inside the vehicle was a rental car agreement dated Sept. 7—the same day Wilson had been shot at his girlfriend’s home..
Down at the station, Detective Meek asked Wilson about his conversation with Carpenter and Scott in the hours before Summers’ murder.
Meek only briefly testified at the trial about his police interview with Wilson, telling the jury that Carpenter had allegedly asked Wilson for some .38-caliber ammunition, and that Wilson said he gave him four or five rounds.
Richard Raska, of Tulsa PD’s forensic lab, only testified that bullet fragments in Summers’ body were fired from the gun found on Wilson. He was not asked about three .38-caliber shell casings found at the scene, which were tested for fingerprints but with negative results.
Wilson, who testified that he was a Piru Street Blood member, refused to answer many questions when called to the stand.
Authorities released Wilson on a $5,000 bond in November 1994, after he accepted a plea deal in return for testifying at Scott and Carpenter’s trial. Prosecutors downgraded a murder charge against Wilson in the Summers case, and allowed him to plead guilty to accessory to murder after the fact.
At his November plea hearing, Wilson said he gave Carpenter three bullets at the QuikTrip, then ran into him a day or two later. “[Carpenter] said, ‘Mike, come here, let me talk to you for [a] second.’ I was like, ‘What’s the deal?’ ‘Mike, hold this for me.’ That’s when he gave me a black, .380 Lorcin handgun that’s like my mother’s,” Wilson testified at his plea hearing. Wilson claimed he held onto Carpenter’s gun until Huff found him with it.
Wilson wasn’t so talkative at trial. “The gang that you affiliate with, are Mr. Scott and Mr. Carpenter members of that gang?” asked prosecutor Mark Collier.
“I don’t even recall their being gang members,” Wilson replied.
“They’re not gang members?” Collier continued, to which Wilson answered, “I don’t know.”
“Have you ever had a conversation with Malcolm Scott at that QuikTrip?” Collier asked.
Wilson replied, “I don’t recall”—his answer for all of the prosecution’s line of questioning, until he was excused and held in contempt of court.
“I’m facing the death penalty,” Wilson testified, referring to his charges in the Richard Yost murder. “I don’t recall nothing.”
Months after cops released Wilson on bond, he was arrested for brutally murdering Yost, his coworker at the QuikTrip and a 30-year-old father.
Police say Wilson and four others killed Yost by flogging him dozens of times with a baseball bat. Yost was “beaten to a bloody pulp,” and his ankles were bound by duct tape and a set of broken handcuffs, prosecutors said. A customer found his body inside a walk-in cooler.
Without Wilson’s testimony at trial, the DA relied heavily on a pair of eyewitnesses.
Kenneth Price testified that he saw a maroon Taurus or Tempo pass by, then come back around minutes later to fire shots. “I seen the shots firing, and they was coming my way, and by that time… I was walking up the hill and that’s when I seen Malcolm,” testified Price, who was shot in the buttocks during the drive-by.
Collier asked if he saw anyone else in the vehicle. “Yeah, I seen De’Marchoe on the other side, looked like he was firing shots at the house. And I seen Michael Wilson driving,” Price said.
On cross examination, Price admitted he originally told cops he saw a “goldish-orange” car but that he was lying. “I told you I wanted revenge,” he testified.
Another witness, Alonzo Johnson, showed the jury a scar on his arm, where a bullet hit him. He testified that he knew Carpenter and Scott to be members of the Bloods, but was not asked by the prosecution to identify them as the triggermen.
Rashun Williams, or Rawbeanie, was called next. He testified that while he was talking to Summers, a burgundy car passed through. "And then so they came back up, and all of a sudden the lights hit off... I thought they was going to park. Then I heard, hey, Rawbeanie, Blood. And I turned my head, and they started pow, pow, started shooting at the time,” Rawbeanie told the jury.
According to Rawbeanie’s testimony, he hit the ground with Summers, and when he got up, a motion-light flickered and illuminated the inside of the vehicle. When Collier asked, “Did you see who was in the car?” he replied, “Somewhat,” before adding, “I thought it was Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter.”
In her closing argument, prosecutor Keely said her eyewitnesses, Rawbeanie and Price, “never wavered, even on cross examination” in their identification of Carpenter and Scott as rivals in the Red Mob Gangsters. “They said, ‘Yeah, we saw who shot the gun. We saw who was in the car, De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott.’ That’s your identification. That’s who did it,” she told the jury.
“Are the witnesses positive in their identification?” Keely added. “Yep, they were positive. They sat on that witness stand, they identified those two guys, and they told you, ‘yeah, it was them.”
But defense attorney Harris closed by accusing Williams, Rawbeanie and Price of telling a “fairy tale” that “went through the refining process that it does when you are facing pending charges.”
“Now, they [prosecutors] did all this song and dance about the gang thing,” Harris told the jury. “They drag these pieces of human refuse down here and attempt to try and scare you, and frighten you so much that you wouldn’t think about the fact that their case did not make sense.
“They have to mystify you and get you in this hysteria, mention this gang stuff, because that way, it doesn’t have to make sense,” Harris added.
Stephen Sewell, the public defender for Carpenter, also called Rawbeanie and Price’s testimonies into question.
“Kenneth Price did tell us why he’s here, and why we’re all here is because he’s seeking revenge, and he hopes to do it through you people right now. He’s a vengeful person. He’s a young gangster, 16, seeking revenge in his mind. The problem is, he can’t keep his stories straight,” Sewell told jurors.
He added, “What I find very ironic is the case against De’Marchoe Carpenter hinges on Michael Wilson’s credibility. The state and the district attorney’s office wants you to believe that Michael Wilson’s statement is credible. The irony of that is Michael Wilson is the same person that this district attorney’s office is seeking the death penalty for in another murder case.
“How credible do they think he is?” Sewell concluded.
And yet a jury found Scott and Carpenter guilty on 1:35 a.m. on Nov. 8, 1995, almost one year after the shooting. They were sentenced to life for murder, along with two 75-year terms for shooting with intent to kill.
During the trial, Scott and Carpenter didn’t believe they’d be convicted. “It ain’t like this was a case where all the evidence is pointing to us and it just looks like we probably were the ones that did it,” Scott told The Daily Beast. “But you got every piece of physical evidence pointing to a totally different person.”
Harris always believed the teenagers were innocent. At a January 2016 post-conviction hearing, Harris testified that he was never given police reports that showed the state’s witnesses initially said they didn’t see who fired the shots.
“I held onto this case file for 15 years. It went through three moves and 2,000 miles,” Harris told The Daily Beast. “My practice was to save a file seven years and then dispose of it. I couldn’t do that with Malcolm’s case.”
Carpenter’s attorney, Stephen Sewell, took a job with the DA’s office soon after the trial. Now working for a Department of Justice counterterrorism task force, Sewell did not return messages left by The Daily Beast.
Harris said Scott and Carpenter “were not bad kids” and instead “were a little confused” and “trying to find themselves.”
“These were kids who turned down a plea deal in the middle of the trial. They refused to admit to a crime they didn’t commit,” he said. “That’s a degree of naivete you don’t ordinarily see out of hardened criminals.”
The night of his conviction, Carpenter hadn’t expected to return to a jail cell. “I thought that I was going home. I know I didn’t do this,” he said.
But when the guilty verdict was read, Carpenter tried to be strong for his family, so he smiled at them when he was escorted out of the courtroom.
“They saw me smiling, but I went back to my cell and cried,” Carpenter recalls. “I thought everybody was asleep, and I cried and tried to keep it as quiet as I possibly could. I don’t know if they heard me or not, but it was hard.”
Carpenter said that while the jury deliberated, prosecutors offered him a 10-year sentence in return for testifying against his friend Malcolm Scott. He refused.
“When they came to him, it was like they really was targeting me,” Scott says. “They came to [Carpenter], like, ‘Just point the finger at him. We’ll let you off with 10. Go onto the minimum and go home.’ But he didn’t do that.
“He went in front of that jury and got that life plus 175 years, when he could have just took that 10 and sent me on down,” Scott continued
Scott also refused to implicate his best friend. “I’m not going to take somebody down that I know did not do it,” Scott told The Daily Beast. “This is a friend to me. This is a guy that I know got my back.”
The two teens were not permitted to write to each other or communicate with one another while at different prisons. Instead, they passed word through their mothers and friends who visited them, reminding one another not to give up.
Every day, the friends would write letters to lawyers, politicians, the Innocence Project, judges and athletes—anyone they could think of who might be able to help them. They sent thousands of letters in those 20-some years.
While Scott was in prison, his father died of a heart attack, and his mother had a stroke and could not longer visit him. He missed out on the lives of nine younger siblings. “While I was in there, they were out here growing up together,” Scott said. “We couldn't really be close.”
Carpenter’s mother fell into a deep depression after working three jobs to raise funds for an appellate attorney. She became addicted to pain pills, and Carpenter’s younger brother, J.T., had to care for their little sister. “If you ask my sister, my sister gonna tell you I raised her, because it’s just me and her,” J.T. told The Daily Beast.
“When they took him, our whole life changed,” J.T. Carpenter said of De’Marchoe’s arrest. “Because he was the leader. He was the oldest. He made sure I stayed in football. I was good in sports. So after he left, the whole dynamic of the family changed. Mom was depressed.
“She worked three jobs. We’d see my mom when she come home, take a bath and a little nap. She’d lay out what to eat and she was gone,” J.T. said.
Within a year, his mother had saved $10,000 money to pay for a new lawyer.
But as the years went on, Carpenter and Scott lost their appeals and were denied parole. The Innocence Project said that it could not help them, as the group focused only on convictions based on DNA evidence. Carpenter said Barry Scheck wrote back to him and said he couldn’t be of assistance.
Then, in 2006, more than a decade after their convictions, a railroad conductor turned private investigator turned their luck around.
Eric Cullen had just started his investigation firm in the summer of 2005. Cullen, whose father was a Tulsa police officer, was inspired to change careers after a childhood friend died in Tulsa police custody four years prior. “I investigated that [case] for his mother just freelance, because I knew something wasn’t right,” Cullen told The Daily Beast. “Come to find out, my investigation proved to be correct and city of Tulsa settled for an undisclosed amount.”
With eyes set on growing his business, Cullen sent pamphlets to 10 prisoners at medium- and maximum-security prisons in Oklahoma. The brochures spread in no time, and Cullen soon received letters from both Carpenter and Scott.
They each wrote to Cullen separately, unaware that their friend was also pleading for help. Cullen received their letters a few days apart, and they were nearly identical in substance. “Both of them said there was an affidavit that an attorney, for whatever reason, wasn’t doing anything with,” he recalls. “The affidavit part grabbed my attention.”
Cullen made an appointment with their mothers. Pamela Carpenter brought trial transcripts and a 2001 affidavit from Richard Harjo, who was in the vehicle with Michael Wilson when he shot Karen Summers. Harjo, who was serving life in prison for the Yost murder, confessed that he, Wilson and Alverson were the only ones in the car that day.
“I know who actually shot and killed Karen Summers and wounded Kenneth Price and Alonzo Johnson,” Harjo wrote in the affidavit, adding that he was reluctant to come forward because of death threats in prison. “On or about Sept. 10, 1994, between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. in retaliation for being shot himself, Michael Wilson shot into a crowd of people from the backseat on the driver’s side of his burgundy Ford rental car.”
Harjo, who met with Cullen, provided a more detailed statement in 2014. He said that the night of the shooting, he was at his sister Jennifer’s house a few blocks away, along with her boyfriend, Billy Alverson. Wilson picked Harjo and Alverson up in his rental car.
When they made their first pass by the party, it was pitch black and party-goers across the street looked like silhouettes, Harjo said. “We drove past the party and Wilson rolled down the back driver’s side window and began shooting into the crowd with his .380,” Harjo wrote in the statement. “Alverson began cursing at Wilson because we did not know that Wilson would start shooting into the crowd. Alverson and I were angry because it was so close to my sister’s house.”
Wilson then dropped the gun off at his grandmother’s house, and the three went out clubbing, Harjo said in the affidavit.
“I was very scared of what Wilson would do to me if I told anyone what happened,” said Harjo, who was 16 at the time of the shooting. “I did not talk to anyone about the shooting. Not even my sister.”
About a year after he first came across Scott and Carpenter’s case, Cullen attended a rally against community violence—one that was organized by Rashun Williams, or Rawbeanie. The private eye remembered Rawbeanie’s name from the letters that Scott and Carpenter had sent him.
Cullen approached Rawbeanie and buttered him up. Then he broached the case of the two men who’d spent a decade behind bars. Rawbeanie immediately started shaking his head. “Man,” he told Cullen, “that wasn’t supposed to happen like that.”
Despite his new role as community advocate, Rawbeanie didn’t want to get involved in the Summers case again. According to Cullen, Rawbeanie didn’t believe in ratting anyone out. “So he had a real issue, because he held the [no-snitch] culture near and dear to his heart unfortunately,” Cullen said. He had to keep working on Rawbeanie.
“I will never forget. I can play a video in my head. We’re standing in his living room in North Tulsa and he stands up. He starts saying, ‘Those boys are innocent. Those boys are innocent,’” Cullen told The Daily Beast.
Eventually, 2010, Rawbeanie signed an affidavit stating, “I was at the party that got shot up all those years ago but I didn’t see anything.”
“It was the officers for the Tulsa Police Department that coerced me into making statements that weren’t true. They told me I would be charged for the murder if I didn’t testify against De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott,” he continued.
The other eyewitness in the case, Kenneth Price, also signed an affidavit for Cullen in 2010. “For sixteen years, I have lived with a guilty conscience,” Price said in his statement, adding that Tulsa police had pressured him into testifying against Carpenter and Scott.
“I got shot in the buttocks so it is obvious that my back was toward the action. I initially told officers I didn’t see anything and I didn’t know who did the shooting.
“After several interviews with several officers, I was told that [De’Marchoe] Carpenter and Malcolm Scott were the shooters and I just needed to point them out when the time came.”
Price reiterated this in a 2014 affidavit, saying one detective “became angry because I did not [know] who the shooters were.”
“The police made me believe that I would be charged with the murder if I did not help them by saying Malcolm and De’Marchoe were the shooters.”
Private Investigator Eric Cullen still needed to get to the shooter. So he wrote to him on death row.
In March 2007, he received a letter back from Michael Wilson. In it, Wilson hinted that he would maybe confess to the crime.
“Mr. Cullen, got a letter from you a few days ago and to get to the point I would like to see you about this situation because I’ve been trying to get my life and affairs right with God,” Wilson wrote in cursive.
“Now I wrote a statement about ten years ago and mailed it to [Malcolm Scott] while I was in the county and nothing happen[ed],” Wilson said. He added, “Also bring a lie detector test too to show you I’m on the real and Malcolm and [De’Marchoe] are telling you the truth.”
But before Wilson could offer a full confession, his attorneys shut down further communication.
“His case was literally at the U.S. Supreme Court,” Cullen recalls. “He had to be careful. He’s trying to save his life on another murder, and so I was stuck again, because he wouldn’t sign anything—but he told me everything.”
Malcolm Scott said little victories like this kept him going.
“Pieces came. It was more like a puzzle,” he said. “And it was like one of those big puzzles that has thousands of pieces and you gotta have every exact piece right. And you’re not gonna get this puzzle done in one day.”
He also describes this period in terms of the Biblical parable about faith as a mustard seed.
“So when we get these little pieces of this puzzle, we take them and we run with them,” he said. “This was our mustard seed. One mustard seed here. One mustard seed here. One mustard seed here. Eventually these are gonna come together.
“And it’s like we’re building. We’re building and we’re building. And that was my fight each day when I would get up. It was like, man, I’m still in here but I gotta keep fighting. I can’t give up.”
Carpenter kept his faith, too. “I always believed that God didn’t allow me to get shot all those times, all those years ago, just to come to prison to die with a life sentence,” he said.
In late 2011, the Oklahoma Innocence Project took over the case. The group, which had just launched at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, wrote to Scott and said they were now tackling false eyewitness testimony. They asked if Scott still wanted their help, and he quickly mentioned Carpenter in his reply. “There’s another guy on this case with me,” Malcolm recalls telling them. “He needs to go, too. We went down together, we’ve gotta come out together.”
Scott’s case was assigned to Christina Green, a law student who delayed her graduation to apply for the Innocence Project clinic. The trial transcripts shocked her. “Wow, how did these two individuals get convicted of this crime,” Green recalls thinking. “It’s pretty apparent these two boys … did not commit the crime.”
Green knew she had to work quickly to right this wrong and visited Scott in early 2012. “I left that day in tears,” Green told The Daily Beast. “I was so upset that I got to go home and he didn’t. It further lit my fire. From that point on, I did everything I could to talk to people, find witnesses, write the petition, get as many people as possible knowledgeable about the case, so they could get the fire I had.”
Josh Lee, a defense attorney in Vinita, Oklahoma, joined Green’s fight for justice. Lee’s experience with suing the city of Claremore for dashcam videos interested the Innocence Project, which sought his help in obtaining Tulsa police records. “It didn’t take long to realize they were wrongfully convicted,” Lee told The Daily Beast. “None of the facts of this thing make sense, and they still don’t.”
Lee plastered Scott’s photograph on his phone and computer screensaver as a reminder to never give up. “I would use that picture of Malcolm, for just a little motivation to keep going and know why we were doing this,” Lee remembers.
Fighting the post-conviction fight takes years. Lee, Green, and a roster of Oklahoma City law students were facing off against a qualified DA’s office with unlimited resources and assistant prosecutors. And they were seeking witnesses who would be willing to cooperate in a 20-year-old case. “The odds are stacked against you in these cases,” Lee said.
One day in 2013, Christina Green visited Malcolm Scott in lockup. Scott could see in her eyes that something was wrong.
He begged her not to sugarcoat the bad news and she gave it to him straight: Rawbeanie, their primary witness, had died suddenly of kidney problems.
“She tells me like, we’ve lost. Without him, it really kills our case. We just don’t have much else to go on,” Scott recalls, adding that the Oklahoma Innocence Project was shelving their case until other witnesses—or the men who committed the crime—came forth.
One of the men involved, Alverson, was already dead by lethal injection. The odds weren’t good.
‘“But Chrissy pulled me up and was like, ‘I don’t care what they’re talking about. I’m going to keep fighting for you, Malcolm.’ And when she looked me in my eyes and she told me, I knew that I believed her,” Scott told The Daily Beast.
“That was a little piece of encouragement that I had to take from that. As hurt as I was and as disappointed as I was, I had to grab hold of that. Just the mustard seed. That’s all I could hold onto to keep me going.”
Green remembers that day as one of the worst. Rawbeanie was gone, and they couldn’t get to Wilson, who was on death row fighting for a reduced sentence. Wilson’s attorney blocked their efforts to get his testimony at every turn.
“We had to stall the case, and I explained it to them [Scott and Carpenter] very much like that,” Green says. “I have to have him [Wilson]. If I don’t have him, I don’t have an evidence for your case. I also let them know: ‘Don’t take this as me giving up. The second I get him, your case will open up.’”
Carpenter and Scott knew they had to get to Wilson—the man who had been found with the gun and the getaway car. The man who had personal beef with the Crips. The man they’d run into that night at the QuickTrip. The man who had fingered them as the murderers.
Scott went to his prison’s law library and looked up Wilson’s death row attorney. He decided to write her, and pour his heart out. “Lady, I understand that you’re fighting for your client, and you want him to leave,” Scott recalls writing.
“But me and my guy, we in here fighting for our lives for something that we had absolutely nothing to do with…
“You have an opportunity that even if you’re not saving him, you’re gonna save two other lives.”
His Last Words
Christina Green got the call on January 2, 2014. Michael Wilson was denied clemency, and his death warrant was signed.
Wilson’s attorney, Lanita Henricksen, who had fought for him ‘til the end, called the Innocence Project in a frenzy, trying to set up a meeting before the state could execute him with a lethal cocktail of drugs.
They were in a race against time to set up a deathbed confession inside the prison. De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott knew that only Wilson could save them—and they worried that he’d change his mind or something would stop him.
“Everything was coming down to the wire,” Scott recalls. “We got to get this statement from this guy before he goes.”
Two days before his death, Wilson sat down for a videotaped interview with the former director of the Innocence Project, Tiffany Murphy. Soft-spoken and sporting glasses and a goatee, Wilson looked nothing like a coldblooded killer.
“I wasn’t trying to shoot Karen Summers… She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Wilson, who sat next to Murphy at a small, square table with a microphone.
“Were you the only person in the car?” Murphy asked.
“No, I wasn’t. Billy Alverson was driving. I was behind him on the… driver’s side, and Richard Harjo was in the back seat on the passenger’s side.”
Wilson said he returned home after blasting the party. “And later on, the police came, Mike Huff. That’s a name I’ll never forget,” Wilson said. “He came to the house wanting to question me. And what’s so crazy, I have the gun on me.”
Police at the station asked Wilson if he knew Malcolm Scott, he said. Then they informed him Scott had just been arrested for murder.
“Mike Huff and another detective, they’re asking me all these questions. But I’m nervous because I know they got the murder weapon,” Wilson told Murphy.
But inexplicably, Tulsa cops weren’t interested in Wilson.
Wilson remembers an officer telling him the gun would be checked for ballistics. “So it kind of blew me away that I got caught with the gun and they just let me go. They didn’t arrest me for possession of a firearm or anything,” he said.
“They just let me go. So to this day, I don’t know how my name… got brought to the police’s attention, but all I know is I had a murder weapon on me and they let me go,” Wilson continued.
At the end of their 34-minute interview, Murphy asked Wilson if there was anything else he wanted to say. He apologized for taking years away from Scott and Carpenter. “I just wanted to make sure they knew, because I told them I was going to do it,” Wilson said regarding his videotaped confession. “You know, it’s one of those things, like, ‘Man, is he really going to do it?’ Now he knows that I did it.”
Then Murphy told Wilson that she’d spoken to Scott on the phone the day before, and he asked her to let him know whether the interview would take place.
“Call him Dirty Mac,” Wilson said. “Tell Dirty Mac I said, ‘What’s up and I hope this helps.’”
On the evening of Jan. 9, while strapped to a gurney, Wilson gave his final remarks before dying for the murder of Richard Yost.
“I love everybody. Free is free,” he said. “I am going home; I’m ready to go. I love you, world.”
He also used his last words to exonerate two men:
“De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott are innocent.”
Tulsa County DA Tim Harris, who witnessed Wilson’s execution, heard those last words. He was unfamiliar with Carpenter and Scott’s case, but he promised to investigate it, as the Tulsa World reported at the time.
A day later, Harris issued a statement standing by Scott and Carpenter’s convictions.
“Mr. Wilson's pre-execution statement is nothing more than his last-ditch effort to try and save his co-defendants, who are prison inmates, just like himself, from suffering the punishment they duly deserve for the crimes they committed,” Harris said.
Former prosecutor Mark Collier told The Daily Beast that Wilson had “about the same credibility as Charles Manson.”
“Right before he’s about to be put to death, he claims other members of his gang are innocent. I don’t put any stock in that,” fumed Collier, now a criminal defense attorney.
Still, the people fighting for Carpenter and Scott took hope from Wilson’s confession. “It’s one of those things where you sit back and say, ‘Thank God,’” says Christina Green, who has since left the Innocence Project to practice family law.
“Thank God Michael Wilson had the courage to do what he did,” Green told The Daily Beast. “In his last days, he was not thinking of himself. He was thinking of righting this wrong that he was a part of 22 years before.”
“People call Michael Wilson a monster but I don’t see a monster in the video when he is testifying,” Green added. “When I watch the video, I see a man who has gotten himself right with God.”
Scott and Carpenter had no idea Wilson would declare their innocence from the Oklahoma death chamber. “To read that [in the newspaper] was a relief,” Carpenter said. “He told the truth and finally set the record straight.”
The next two years in prison, the friends say, was the hardest part.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Scott said. “People think suddenly Michael Wilson just decides, ‘I did it,’ and OK, you’re free.”
“Why ain’t we out?” Carpenter recalls thinking. “He’s saying that we didn’t do it, but we still in prison.”
The Road to Freedom
In February 2014, the Oklahoma Innocence Project filed applications for post-conviction relief on behalf of Carpenter and Scott.
They cited newly discovered evidence of their innocence, including confessions from the three people involved in Summers’ murder — Wilson, Alverson and Harjo — and affidavits from witnesses who said their testimony was coerced by cops.
Attorneys also accused the state of failing to inform the defense that forensic tests never linked Carpenter and Scott to the crime.
“From the moment the police began their investigation into the murder of Karen Summers, there was no evidence suggesting [Scott and Carpenter] had any involvement in the shooting. Instead, all the evidence pointed directly at Mr. Wilson,” Green and Lee wrote in court papers.
The next step was going through the discovery process and waiting on the court to set a date for an evidentiary hearing.
In the meantime, Carpenter dreamed of what life could be like outside a prison cell.
He’d rekindled a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, a woman named Brandy, in 2010. For years, Brandy sacrificed her time to visit Carpenter every weekend. Sometimes she brought her five children along with her.
The two had known each other as teens, and Brandy had even written to Carpenter right after he was convicted. But she got pregnant at age 16 and they fell out of touch. They didn’t talk again until 2009, when she left the father of her children. That year, she decided to wish Carpenter a happy birthday, and they’ve been together ever since.
Brandy would get off work at 7 a.m., take a two-hour nap, then hit the highway to drive to the penitentiary. Even if Carpenter got out of his cell for an hour or two hours, it helped him. “So I remember that, and I tried to go every weekend, even if I’m tired… to give him a peace of mind,” Brandy told The Daily Beast.
Scott said that he met several different women during his incarceration, but that it’s hard to keep anybody around when you have a life sentence. “For the most part, they don't expect for you to come home. The most you can have is a friend. I've met several good friends over the time I was incarcerated,” he said.
He started dating a childhood friend, Kym, in the last year he spent in prison but it didn’t last once he was out. “I think I really need time to myself to get back to being comfortable with the world, period… My whole world got cut off at 17 years old,” he said.
In January of 2016, Scott and Carpenter were moved to the Tulsa County jail, waiting for a judge to review the evidence following an evidentiary hearing. It was hard to sleep, not knowing when the decision would be handed down.
“So here I am, a grown man, crying in the county every day, just about,” Carpenter said with some levity. “God, please let me go, I’m innocent.”
The decision was announced May 9, in a courtroom packed with family and reporters.
Green, who’d spent five years of her life working to free Carpenter and Scott, feverishly scribbled down the judge’s words until she realized they’d won. She set her pen down and sat back. Then she put her arm around Scott’s shoulder and said, “You’re going home.”
Scott started to cry, but Carpenter grinned.
“De’Marchoe doesn’t cry; he just has this cheesy smile,” Green laughed. “I started crying. Malcolm was crying. Josh [Lee] was crying.”
“Every May 9, I will be proud of myself, proud of Josh, but happy for Malcolm and De’Marchoe. That’s the day they got their lives back. For Malcolm and De’Marchoe, that’s their Independence Day,” Green said.
In an order granting post-conviction relief, Tulsa County judge Sharon K. Holmes wrote, “This Court, having considered the totality of the evidence presented and available finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that the Petitioners did not commit these crimes.”
“There is a reasonable probability, if not near certainty, that had the evidence produced at the evidentiary hearing been produced at trial, the outcome would have been different,” Holmes continued.
“No reasonable jury having heard Michael Wilson’s confession, having reviewed Billy Alverson’s affidavit and having heard the testimony of Richard Harjo could convict the Petitioners of the murder of Karen Summers and the other attendant crimes.”
Based on the evidence, Holmes ruled, De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott “are actually innocent of the murder of Karen Summers.”
Even as Green and Lee set up a press conference to declare freedom for De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott, the Department of Corrections informed them that Scott wouldn’t be released after all.
They said Scott had a marijuana charge from 1999 while in prison and the DA in another county wanted him to serve five years.
The media was setting up at a law firm in Downtown Tulsa, and Lee was in the courthouse making calls to get Scott out. “It’s the happiest day of our lives, and I’m going, ‘My God, he might have to serve five years,” Lee said.
Lee and Comanche County prosecutors were in a disagreement over the wording of the 1999 judgment, and whether Scott was entitled to time served. “I guess 7,913 days isn’t enough for a crime that he didn’t commit, and instead they want to get their full time for five years,” Lee told reporters that day.
Green held Scott’s hand inside the jail and told him, “I don’t think this is going to happen today and here’s why,” she remembers.
But soon after, a detention officer came in and asked, “Miss Green, you ready to take him home?”
“I’m ready, is he being released?” Green asked. The officer replied, “I’ll bring him out front to you.”
Comanche County let the weed charge go, and Scott and Carpenter exited the county jail wearing suits that the Innocence Project bought for them. Scott came out first, followed by Carpenter less than an hour later.
They addressed reporters at a news conference and embraced their mothers and siblings.
“It’s been a long journey but we’re here. We made it,” Scott said before a scrum of reporters. “For my mother who stood by me through it all, I love you, Mama.”
Carpenter, standing next to Brandy and her three daughters, said, “I’ve waited a long time for this day and this moment.”
The crowd laughed when Carpenter added, “It’s obvious that I can’t pursue my NBA career but I’ve been told that I have Denzel Washington and George Clooney’s good looks. I think I’m going to be an actor.”
One reporter asked, “You’re joking around, you’re in a good mood, how do you do that after 20 years?”
Carpenter replied, “You can’t be bitter about the past. It’s time to move forward and live for the future.”
The exonerees were chauffeured to Albert G’s barbecue in Downtown Tulsa. Scott remembers riding in an SUV with Josh Lee, Lee’s wife, and his then-girlfriend friend Kym. He asked them to turn on G-Eazy’s “Me, Myself & I.” “The lyrics… it’s just like talking about all he's had to endure and go through on his own… to make it where he's made it today. I felt it. It’s a personal song like that for me,” Scott recalls.
Carpenter said he wasn’t able to eat during the celebration. He was too excited to see “how pretty the sky was” and kept looking at people’s faces, soaking in the scenery. Tulsa had changed so much over the years. He looked at the new style of cars. Everything was different.
After the press conference, Scott just wanted to go for a jog or stroll around the block as a free man, to realize it wasn’t a dream. “It was a beautiful day. The sun, there was a perfect amount of wind blowing. It was not too hot. The day was just so right and perfect. This is what freedom feels like. This is what liberty is about.”
Scott and Carpenter didn’t show an iota of anger or bitterness. “They’re not monsters. They’re not bad guys,” Lee said. “I can’t imagine how they can be as happy-go-lucky as they are,” after 22 years behind bars.
Life On the Outside
It’s been a year since Carpenter and Scott walked free. There are happy days—they both say they smile a lot. “Every day is like a birthday for me. I don’t have a dollar in my pocket but look at me. Working, trying to survive and enjoying life,” Carpenter says.
Scott adds, “When you look at us, you’re like, ‘Shit. Them guys, they must be doing good. They must got it all.’ [Other people], they just don’t know. We’ve been through it … we lived a life where we had to beg for a soup. We survived on ramen noodles [in prison].”
Scott is living in Muskogee, an hour southeast of Tulsa, and works as a machine operator in a metal processing plant. Carpenter has worked at nine jobs since he’s been out. Most recently, he’s been working as a caregiver at Brookhaven Hospital, where he assists patients with traumatic brain injury.
“For me, I like helping people,” Carpenter says. “All the patients like me, because I don’t want to be like a mean guard or something. If I can help them, I’ll help them.”
Then there are days when they are still adjusting to all the years lost, to the families left behind.
Carpenter’s sister was only 8 years old when he went to prison, and they are only now getting to know one another. His brother J.T. was in the hospital fighting an infection after a kidney transplant when Carpenter was released from jail.
“It’s weird when I hear people come out and tell me stuff about my brother that I should know, personal stuff. Like man, you know my brother better than me. As adults, we don’t know each other,” J.T. says with frustration.
“That’s something we can go back to, is our memories,” he added. “We can’t talk about nothing that happened last month. Because last month, we’re sitting here trying to catch up on what happened the last 20 years.”
Thirteen days after his release, Carpenter married Brandy in the lobby of his lawyer’s glassy firm. Their pastor was Andre Harris, the brother of the man who was fatally shot by pay-to-play deputy Bob Bates. They didn’t have a reception afterward, but Carpenter’s cousin happened to be having a barbecue so they celebrated there. He couldn’t afford to give Brandy a ring until months later.
The couple is vague when asked why they got hitched so soon after his release.
“That was a huge step. Because when you’re in prison, you have no one. [When] we got married, it was like, you know, let’s do it. She was there six years for me. After someone ride with you for six years in prison, you don’t want to just let them go,” Carpenter says.
Brandy said she sometimes experiences a moodier side of the always-sunny Carpenter, when he wants to be alone.
One day at Brookhaven Hospital, where Brandy also works, Carpenter said he didn’t know if he was allowed to cross a line to go into the kitchen. He remembers the painted lines in prison that inmates couldn’t cross. “It didn’t click—where he was or who he was,” Brandy says. “I’m like, yeah, you work here. You don’t have to ask to go in there. The patients have to ask, but you don’t.”
She said Carpenter can’t sit still long enough to watch TV or movies. He’s constantly moving, hanging out with friends, or driving somewhere. “We just really take it one day at a time,” Brandy says. “I don’t even see the future right now. I just want him to get better really.
“Y’all don’t see that side of him,” she adds. “All you see if the smile and the ‘I’m OK,’ and he’s not.”
She says that in prison, Carpenter seemed like a different person. She described him as “Mr. Nice Guy all the time” while behind bars. Now he’ll sometimes take off and drive for a while and tell Brandy that she acts like his warden. She just wants to know where he’s going, she says, for his own safety.
“He’s been locked up for 22 years. He hasn’t experienced a lot. We even thought about taking a break from each other for a year or two years, just so he can have that time to himself,” Brandy said.
But Carpenter says it bothers him that he has to tell her where he’s going. He says it feels like he’s in prison again. “He shouldn’t have to tell me or tell anybody where he’s going,” Brandy says. “He wants to be free.”
Like Carpenter, Scott is adjusting to his freedom of choice. Prison decided when he would eat, come out of his cell and walk back into it. His life was programmed by someone else every day. Not even a daily meal was a certainty. Scott remembers during prison lockdowns, he didn’t get dinner until 1 a.m.
“For me, I’m just like … I was locked in a cell with another man for 20 years. I just like the comfort of my own right now. My own bedroom, my own bathroom, a kitchen. My own place to live and go where I please. I don’t have to answer to anybody right now: no wardens, no C.O.s, no girlfriend,” Scott says.
Scott typically works from 1 to 9:30 p.m. When summer ends, he plans to attend Tulsa Community College and study health and nutrition. His eyes are set on becoming a personal trainer—but on a cruise ship, so he can be paid to travel.
He admits it’s been “a little difficult” adjusting to a new adulthood outside prison. “I’m working, I’ve got a job, I’ve got my own place. I gotta pay all my own bills just like anybody else,” Scott said.
Recently, Scott got a $200 speeding ticket while driving with Kym in brand new red Camaro. He’d rented the flashy car to cruise to a Future concert in Missouri. “I think I set myself up for failure,” Scott admits
When he celebrated his 40th birthday this year in Miami, he lost a rental car key on the beach and had to pay a $170 fee. Scott, who is often late to social engagements, is learning lessons in responsibility that everyone else did at a much younger age.
He said he’s been looking for a therapist. “I do feel like a lot of times, I need help. I get this paranoia, because I be worried they’ll [the justice system] change their mind and decide to come back and get me again,” Scott says.
“I’ve been down for something I didn’t do before,” he added. “Who’s to decide they don’t wanna get me again?”
De’Marchoe Carpenter is a dreamer. At age 40, he has so many plans for the future.
He wants to become an actor. He wants to publish a prison memoir, which he says he penned on the inside, called “Buried Alive.” He is looking for places to attend college. He also made a professional video—with the help of his attorney, Dan Smolen—that he sent to the NBA. At 6-foot-3, he always wanted to play basketball. Now he hopes he can play against celebrities in the NBA All-Star game next year.
Carpenter and Scott spent their first Christmas outside prison at an Oklahoma City Thunder game, sitting courtside and meeting the players. Carpenter told point guard Russell Westbrook that he wanted to square off against him for charity. “But if I can play in the NBA Celebrity All-Star game next year, that might be bigger than acting and the book. That might be No. 1,” Carpenter says.
College, basketball, acting, writing—those are all things for the future. For now, when he’s not at the hospital, he likes to get in his car and drive. He got his first car and driver’s license this past year. Now he steers a white 2002 GMC Yukon.
Sometimes, Carpenter will take off for hours, with only a flip phone as company. He gets lost cruising around Tulsa and the surrounding highways. “I have my license, I have gas, I’m legit, so I’m driving,” he says.
“I could drive and just keep going as further as I wanted to go,” Carpenter says. His favorite route is I-44 straight to Oklahoma City, just to remember his Christmas with the Thunder.
“And don’t nobody tell me nothing. Can’t say that I can’t go here.”