24 Nov SEX, LIES, AND A SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH: The Story Of The Trial Of Michael Tadlock Part I
“Stand for the jury.”
And we did. As the doors opened I searched the faces of the jurors. I was looking for a sign, a hint. I got nothing but tired faces, eyes looking at the floor. It’s a pointless exercise and I know it. I’ve watched many juries walk into a courtroom and I’ve never gotten their secret from them. They protect it. They know you want it, and they protect it.
The only thing that gives me any solace is that I know just five feet to my left, another attorney is doing the same thing. That attorney is my law partner, Blake Lynch. Over the course of the last two days we have been battling for the life of the man that is standing between us, Michael Wayne Tadlock.
Michael is on trial for Forcible Oral Sodomy and Rape in the First Degree. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The respectful and solemn parade of jurors, turns and enters the well of the courtroom and they take their seats. In the hands of juror number 4 is a stack of papers. In that stack of papers is a verdict form, and on that verdict form is an “X”. The placement of that “X” on that form will determine the fate of Michael Tadlock.
The jurors sit, and the stack of papers is passed to the judge. The seconds that this takes, feels like labored minutes. Almost simultaneously, Blake and I both reach over and take one of Michael’s hands. It’s a show of support, comfort, but for whom? I can feel the jackrabbit beat of my heart as the bailiff begins to read. Slow. So many words. My heart is pounding as she gets closer.
“…We the jury, empaneled in the above … find the defendant…”
I greeted the two women in the lobby and invited them into the conference room. Lawana entered the room first, she moved a little quicker than her sister Norma. The ladies sat across the table from me. As far as first impressions go, I liked them. They appeared to have just come from work, both were wearing scrubs. I could tell these ladies knew the value of work. They both carried that look one has when they have worked hard all their life. It’s a worn, almost tired look, but more than anything it communicates pride and accomplishment. I grew up around people that wear this look everyday of their life, I know it well.
Right to the point. They were here to ask if our firm would represent their brother. He was in the Pittsburg County Jail, and was facing a charge of rape. They told me about how they had hired an attorney when he was first charged, but after the preliminary hearing she had withdrawn, after asking for more money. They told me how after she withdrew, Michael was appointed an attorney by the court, a public defender. They said his current attorney had told Michael that he should take an offer of ten years in prison, rather than take his chances at trial.
I asked, “Why doesn’t Michael just take the offer?”
Norma spoke, she told me that she knew her brother, and he was innocent. Lawana chimed in and told me that the sisters were familiar with the accuser as well, and they did not believe her. She had been a patient at the nursing home where the sisters currently worked, and where Michael had previously worked. They explained that she was there recovering from some health issues, and while she was there he she had several strange incidents and had to be committed to a mental health facility at one point.
I asked if Michael had been in a relationship with this woman, and the sisters told me no, that he had a girlfriend he had been residing with for the last ten years. I thanked them for their interest and told them I would like to speak with Michael, and review the case before I gave them an answer. After they left I pulled up the investigating officer’s report to see what the state believed had happened.
Det. Frankie McClendon of the McAlester Police Department was the investigating officer. He wrote in his report that he had responded to the request of Officer Lloyd London on the 30th of September, 2016 at the Aldridge Apartments in McAlester. It was there that he met with a woman that claimed that a man named Michael Tadlock had sexually assaulted her four days earlier.
McClendon noted in his report that the woman was wearing a medical brace of some kind. It was made of plastic and had steel bars in the front and back of the device. The brace covered the entire torso of the woman, from her waist to her chin. She claimed that she was required by a doctor to wear the brace due to a spinal fusion surgery she had a few months prior. She did confirm that she was wearing the brace on the day she was attacked.
She claimed that she knew Michael prior to that day, that she had known him for the last couple of years. She said that she was sitting in her recliner on Saturday afternoon, when her door opened and Michael walked in. She greeted him, he sat on her sofa, and they engaged in small talk. After a while she excused herself and went to the bathroom. When she opened the door, Michael was standing in the frame, holding a knife.
Michael grabbed her by the bars of her brace and told her he was going to “cut her up” if she said anything. He then forced her to her knees holding the bars of the brace. He tried to force her to perform oral sex on him, but she clinched her teeth. After she did this he pulled her up, dragged her toward the bedroom, and forced her down on the bed where he raped her at knifepoint. Afterward he made her wash herself while he watched, and then he left.
Det. McClendon had the apartment manager pull the security tape from that day. With the assistance of the woman, McClendon could identify Michael Tadlock getting on the building’s elevator and exiting the same about forty-five minutes later. McClendon did gather some clothing she said she had worn that day, but admitted there was no sense in a forensic exam of the accuser, because too much time had passed. Her description of the knife was vague. She said it was like a folding knife but the size you cut potatoes with. Other than that, all she could say was that it was scary.
McClendon next spoke with Michael. He conducted his interview the following day at the jail after Michael had been arrested and booked in. Michael admitted to knowing the woman and to being there that day as well. He said he had come over at her request, something he had done before, and that the two were friends. He said that he had visited her before at the Aldridge Apartments and at her previous residence in Savanna. He mentioned that they had become aquatinted when he worked as a janitor at the New Hope Nursing Home.
According to Michael he came over that day, as he had done on other occasions, entered the building code that she had given him, and went up to her apartment. He said that he entered the apartment and sat on her sofa. They discussed her health issues and other small talk for a while until she excused herself to use the restroom. When she came back from the restroom, she asked if he would buy her something to eat, and he suggested a delivery from Papa John’s. She called the restaurant and ordered pizza and some boneless wings for delivery. According to Michael he received a call from his employer to come in for a service call and change a tire. Michael told the woman he had to leave and did so before the delivery arrived. He left $22.00 to cover the cost of the food and tip.
McClendon asked Michael on a few occasions if he had ever had a sexual relationship with the woman, he denied it. After some pressing Michael eventually said that he had had sex with the woman in the past and eventually agreed that he had sex with her on the day in question as well. The Detective noted in his report that Michael had not been honest with him. Upon receiving McClendon’s report, the District Attorney’s office filed an Information charging Michael with the crime of Rape in the First Degree. His bail was set at $100,000.00.
I made the all too familiar walk down through the double doors of the Pittsburg County jail and into Missi Robertson’s office. Missi is the jail administrator. After we exchanged hellos she asked me who I was here to see, and I told her Michael Tadlock. A few minutes later I was sitting in the contact visiting room that also doubles as a courtroom, locked in by two heavy steel doors and surrounded by bulletproof glass.
Michael was escorted into the room and I got to look at him for the first time. He’s a big man, standing about 6’ 2 and over 300 pounds. He lumbers when he walks, and has a large square shaped head that sits a top broad thick shoulders. He looks intimidating, but he has a pleasant warm smile. It’s the smile you notice first, because it comes so easy for him. His voice is like gravel and everything he says it followed by a thick, husky, smoker’s laugh.
As we are talking, it’s the laugh that begins to make me feel somewhat uncomfortable or even suspicious. I decide to confront him. I tell him I don’t understand, that here we are sitting together in a jail, surrounded by heavy cold steel, and discussing an accusation that could mean spending the rest of your life in prison; yet you keep laughing. I tell him that this seems odd to me.
Michael’s expression changes. The lines that formed around his eyes, making him appear to squint, disappear and the flesh on his face now hangs. He has the expression of a child that has just come to the realization that “adults just don’t understand”. But, in that moment I do understand. He laughs because it’s his defense. He smiles because he is nervous. He is scared.
I redirect our conversation back to facts and Michael tells me what happened that day. He tells me his story.
Michael’s accuser called him that Saturday and asked him to come over. He expected she would want something to eat, as she had in the past. He arrived at the Aldridge Apartment building and using the code she had given him previously, he entered the building and proceeded to her apartment. When he came in she was sitting in the recliner and he went and sat on the couch. They talked, small talk.
After a little bit, the woman got up from the chair and went to the bathroom. When she returned, she came to the couch Michael was sitting on. She began to touch him. At first he resisted and told her, “No, now I didn’t come over for this.” She persisted and invited Michael to her bedroom. He followed. Over the next several minutes, Michael described to me in detail, the act. He explained that although she was wearing this brace, they could and did, have sex.
After it was over, she went into the bathroom, and Michael went back to sitting on the couch. As he was waiting for her to return to the living room, Michael received a call from his work. She emerged from the bathroom and he explained that he needed to go. The woman asked Michael if he still intended to get her something to eat, and he suggested pizza from Papa John’s. She called the number and ordered a pizza and some wings. He left $22.00 to cover the amount of the order and left.
“Did you hear from her again?”, I asked.
He told me that she called him the following Monday a few times, but he didn’t answer her calls. Then on Wednesday he was arrested and taken to the sheriff’s department, where he was interviewed by Officer McClendon. I asked Michael why he lied to the officer. He gave that nervous laugh that I had now found myself becoming accustomed to, and then his jowls hung low, his eyes appeared sad, and he said, “I don’t know, I didn’t know what to say, I was scared.”
TAKING THE CASE
Blake and I were discussing Michael’s case. It was May, Michael’s trial date would be here soon, and it would take both of us working on the case if we decided to take it.
“So, what do you think?”, Blake asked.
“Well, we have a big guy that is accused of coming into this lady’s apartment and raping her at knifepoint. She was wearing a medical brace at the time, and claims that he was very scary and violent.”
“What’s the defense?”
“Consent. It would be her word against his.”
Then Blake asked, “Will he make a good witness?”
“Well that’s the worst part,” I said, “I don’t think we can put him on the stand. He doesn’t speak well and it’s likely he would have a really hard time when the district attorney questions him.”
We discussed the case some more and concluded that it would be a very difficult case and we would need to find a way to tell the story of what happened from Michael’s perspective, without Michael telling it. In the end, we decided to take the case. I told Blake that I believed Michael, that there was just something about her story that didn’t add up, and I wanted to help. I liked Norma and Lawanna, I wanted the same thing they wanted, for Michael to have the best chance possible.
We took the case.