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  • Colleen McCarty Esq.

The Case for April Wilkens' Life

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

by Colleen McCarty Esq. –





April Wilkins is serving life in prison in Oklahoma, despite maintaining her innocence and compelling evidence that she was defending herself at the time of the crime. Ms. Wilkens proclaimed that the decedent in her case was lunging at her and threatening to kill her when she was able to reach her handcuffed hands behind her and grab a gun from her rear vest pocket. The man she shot was her wealthy, chronically-abusive ex-fiance, Terry Carlton.


Any person would've been in reasonable fear of their life after being violently raped, and told, "I'm going to rape you up the ass, then kill you." The decedent turned to find Ms. Wilkens holding a gun. He flew into a rage and she shot him until the gun would not fire anymore. Ms. Wilkens stayed at the scene, awaited the police, and confessed everything once they arrived--even though she was told she could not receive a SANE exam for the rape she endured until after she gave her statement to the police.


The key witnesses against Ms. Wilkens were: the arresting officer--Laura Fadem--who downplayed April’s rape and told the jury she “gave in” to going upstairs with Terry; Robert Martin--Terry's best friend--readily admitted on the stand that Terry lied repeatedly to him about the nature of his drug use and prior violence against Ms. Wilkens; and Luke Draffin--a known drug dealer--whose pending cases were all dismissed or pled down after testifying in the State's case-in-chief against Ms. Wilkens.


Terry had a propensity for violence against women, as shown by the two prior protective orders filed by an ex-girlfriend, Melinda Wallace, and an ex-wife, Sherry Blanton. There were also two protective orders introduced at trial that Ms. Wilkens herself had filed.


In a case riddled with obvious sexual discrimination and slut-shaming — including the elected District Attorney at the time asking potential jurors if the fact that Ms. Wilkens was a young "moderately attractive" woman would prevent them from finding her guilty of first-degree murder—evidence shows Ms. Wilkens never had a chance to overcome the jury's biases toward people who have mental health diagnoses and those who use drugs. The state even introduced photos of Ms. Wilkens on vacation with her then-fiance Carlton that showed her lifting her skirt and laughing. The state used this evidence to suggest to the jury that any abuse Ms. Wilkens endured was deserved because she was somehow asking for it. The prosecution–even in the face of copious physical evidence of injuries from the rape–concludes “this wasn’t rape, members of the jury, this was consensual sex.”


In addition to the atrocities she endured leading up to the incident, Ms. Wilkens’ attorney in the case did not prepare for the trial. Even though she testified from the stand for three days, her attorney did not adequately prepare her for direct or cross-examination. The expert her attorney called to testify about Battered Women’s Syndrome called April, “stupid and unreasonable,” from the stand. Her attorney also did not offer a manslaughter instruction to the jury, which would've given the jury the opportunity to consider a lesser sentence.


In these ways, and many others, Ms. Wilkens' rights under the state and federal constitutions have been violated and her conviction and LIFE sentence should be given another look. Since her appeals have been exhausted, there are few ways to obtain sentencing relief now in Oklahoma.



The Evidence


90% of the state's case against April corroborates her version of events. Mr. Carlton was found in his basement with eight bullet holes in his body. One of the bullets went through his hand, which would've been outstretched toward April at the time the gun was fired. He fell backward on his back with one leg bent, suggesting he was stepping toward April--or lunging at her as she states--when he was shot. There was stippling on the gunshot wounds to Mr. Carlton's face but not to the ones on his hand or neck, which suggests that the hand and neck wound came first, and as the inertia of his forward movement continued, he got closer to the gun and the stippling occurred on those wounds.


There was no evidence offered by the State to refute April's version of events--including testimony about the blood spatter evidence, ballistics, and autopsy results.


A test of his blood after the shooting showed Mr. Carlton had both meth and heroin in his system. This corroborates April's testimony that he was shooting up meth earlier in the morning, and then he switched to a mixture of meth and heroin.


April tested negative for all drugs on the day of the shooting.


A subsequent search of Mr. Carlton's house revealed two large gun safes full of long guns. In addition, there were four grenades in his basement, and testimony is not consistent about whether these were live rounds. In addition, Mr. Carlton had a room in his attic for growing psychedelic mushrooms.


There was a .22 Baretta pistol sitting on the side table of the basement which was the gun April told police she used to defend herself. On the back of the couch--where Terry was leading April to "rape her up the ass then kill her," there was later found an Iver Johnson pistol that was not loaded.


April was allowed to receive a SANE exam after her statement was made to the police. That SANE exam showed signs of vaginal tearing in two places and bruising all over April's body--including her neck, hip, chest, and head.



Their Past


April and Terry had an abusive relationship that turned into one of serial stalking, coercive control, and physical/sexual abuse.


Her earliest memory of abuse was April 25th, 1996. Mr. Carlton strangled Wilkens during an argument. Evidence shows victims who are strangled are 750% more likely to be murdered by their intimate partners.


Carlton moved on to forced sex, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and stalking through the years of 1996, 1997, and 1998.


A heinous rape was documented on December 6, 1997--Carlton drugged Wilkens with valium and raped her until she went unconscious. She awoke unable to move and police were called.


Throughout the Spring of 1998, Carlton compulsively broke into Wilkens' house and was heard by neighbors outside her house "at least five nights out of the week," according to trial testimony.



Police Inaction


Throughout her time being abused and stalked, officers from the Tulsa Police Department often acted with indifference or outright disbelief of her claims. She was told she was "annoying" officers by calling so much, and one officer told her he "just kept expecting to find [her] dead."


After the rape on December 6th, officers responded and put Carlton in handcuffs. A Sargent came over the radio and ordered his officers to "uncuff him and just file a report."


Wilkens made over 14 police reports throughout the time she was being abused by Carlton. Only one of those calls led to his arrest for carrying a loaded and chambered Glock 9mm pistol in front of her house.


That misdemeanor required him to appear in court on March 25, 1998--he did not. The Court ordered a bench warrant for his arrest.


Even though there was a warrant out when Wilkens called DVIS (who ultimately called the police) on April 11th, 1998, officers did not arrest him. They committed both Wilkens and Carlton to involuntary commitment at Parkside Mental Hospital. Carlton was released hours later, while Wilkens was transferred to Eastern State Hospital and placed on a regimen of the anti-psychotic drug, Lithium, for which she was contraindicated.


Ultimately, April shot Terry Carlton in a life-and-death struggle because she had no other choice, and the system showed her time and again that no one was coming to save her.


What you can do


April is still in prison 25 years later. You can help us bring her home. To learn more about this case and the unbelievable nightmare April endured, visit www.freeaprilwilkens.com and listen to OK Appleseed's new true-crime-advocacy podcast about April, Panic Button: The April Wilkens Case. Follow along with Oklahoma Appleseed’s social media as we work toward bringing April home.

 

This story is republished with permission in collaboration with Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. To learn more about Oklahoma Appleseed, visit their website at www.okappleseed.org.

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