FAIRVIEW, Okla. – A former Oklahoma sheriff was convicted of second-degree rape and bribery Saturday in a case that accused him of coercing sex from female inmates and drug court defendants.
A Major County jury convicted former Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess on 13 felonies, including five counts of second-degree rape and three counts of bribery by a public official. He was acquitted of 23 other felony counts that included second-degree rape, forcible sodomy and rape by instrumentation.
The jury recommended Burgess serve 94 years in prison. He is to be sentenced March 24.
Prosecutors alleged Burgess, 56, used his position as a member of a team controlling a drug court in Custer County to sexually coerce defendants.
Burgess had pleaded not guilty and his attorney maintained the accusers were either lying or that the women consented to sex.
Under state law, an inmate cannot legally consent to sexual relations with a jailer or anyone else who controls the conditions of the prisoner's confinement. Defense lawyer Steve Huddleston contended that drug court defendants were controlled by a judge, not Burgess.
"I didn't think he was guilty of anything," Huddleston said after the verdict. He said he expected Burgess would appeal the convictions.
Special prosecutor Mike Boring called the verdict important, saying: "This kind of action cannot be tolerated in our society."
Burgess was convicted of rape charges involving two female drug court defendants, one of whom alleged he had sex with her on multiple, separate occasions at a motel. Burgess was convicted of sexually assaulting her in his car after arresting her on a drug court violation, but acquitted of the charges related to the motel incidents.
During the trial, Burgess's stepdaughter, Jodi Stanley, had testified that he had neck surgery in mid-January 2007 and was limited physically during the week after. One of the women who claimed Burgess forced her to have sex had testified that Burgess went to her hotel room in Clinton asking for sex around that same period.
Several female offenders testified they feared they would be sent to prison if they did not provide sexual favors to Burgess. One woman testified she and Burgess had sex two to three times a week over 14 months.
Huddleston said the women were hoping a verdict against Burgess in criminal court would translate to a payday for them in a civil case.
The evidence against Burgess first surfaced in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 12 former jail inmates alleging sheriff's employees had them engage in wet T-shirt contests and offered cigarettes to those who would flash their breasts.
The trial was moved from Custer County to Major County because of intense media coverage. Fairview is 73 miles from the Custer County seat of Arapaho and 120 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.