Man executed for the 1996 killing of a University of Oklahoma dance student

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma executed an inmate Thursday for the 1996 killing of a University of Oklahoma dance student, in a case that went unsolved for years until DNA from the crime scene was matched to a man serving prison time for burglary.

Anthony Sanchez, 44, was pronounced dead at 10:19 a.m. following a three-drug injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Even though he maintained that he had nothing to do with the killing of 21-year-old Juli Busken, he took the unusual step of opting not to present a clemency application to the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, which many viewed as the last chance to spare his life.

“I'm innocent,” Sanchez said as he was strapped to a gurney inside the death chamber. “I didn't kill nobody.”

Sanchez criticized his former attorneys and thanked his supporters, including his spiritual adviser who was in the chamber with him and the anti-death penalty group Death Penalty Action.

The lethal drugs, beginning with the sedative midazolam, were administered starting at around 10:08 a.m.

At one point during the execution, a member of the execution team entered the chamber and reattached an oxygen monitor that prison officials said had malfunctioned during the procedure.

Shortly before he was put to death, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request for a stay of execution submitted by his new lawyer, Eric Allen, of Columbus, Ohio. Allen had said he needed more time to go through the case evidence.

Sanchez was convicted of raping and murdering 21-year-old Juli Busken, a Benton, Arkansas, native who had just completed her last semester at the university when she was abducted on Dec. 20, 1996, from the parking lot of her Norman apartment complex. Her body was found that evening near Lake Stanley Draper in far southeastern Oklahoma City. She had been bound, raped and shot in the head.

Busken had performed as a ballerina in several dance performances during her tenure at OU and was memorialized at the campus with a dance scholarship in her name at the College of Fine Arts.

Years later, Sanchez was serving time for a burglary conviction when DNA from sperm on Busken's clothing at the crime scene was matched to him. He was convicted and sentenced to die in 2006.

None of Busken's family attended Thursday's execution, but state Attorney General Gentner Drummond said he had spoken to them several times in recent months.

“Juli was murdered 26 years, nine months and one day ago. The family has found closure and peace,” Drummond said.

Sanchez has long maintained his innocence and did so again in a phone call to The Associated Press earlier this year from death row. “That is fabricated DNA,” Sanchez said. “That is false DNA. That is not my DNA. I've been saying that since day one.”

He told the AP that he declined to ask for clemency because even when the five-member Pardon and Parole Board takes the rare step of recommending it, Gov. Kevin Stitt has been unlikely to grant it. “I’ve sat in my cell and I’ve watched inmate after inmate after inmate get clemency and get denied clemency,” Sanchez said. “Either way, it doesn’t go well for the inmates.”

Drummond maintained that the DNA evidence unequivocally linked Sanchez to Busken's killing.

A sample of Anthony Sanchez's DNA “was identical to the profiles developed from sperm on Ms. Busken’s panties and leotard,” Drummond wrote last month in a letter to a state representative who had inquired about Sanchez's conviction. Drummond added there was no indication either profile was mixed with DNA from any other individual and that the odds of randomly selecting an individual with the same genetic profile were 1 in 94 trillion among Southwest Hispanics.

“There is no conceivable doubt that Anthony Sanchez is a brutal rapist and murderer who is deserving of the state’s harshest punishment," Drummond said in a recent statement.

A private investigator hired by an anti-death penalty group contended that the DNA evidence may have been contaminated and that an inexperienced lab technician miscommunicated the strength of the evidence to a jury.

Former Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall, who was the county's top prosecutor when Sanchez was tried, has said that while the DNA evidence was the most compelling at trial, there was other evidence linking Sanchez to the killing, including ballistic evidence and a shoe print found at the crime scene.

“I know from spending a lot of time on that case, there is not one piece of evidence that pointed to anyone other than Anthony Sanchez,” Kuykendall said recently. “I don’t care if a hundred people or a thousand people confess to killing Juli Busken.”

Sanchez is the third inmate put to death in Oklahoma this year and the 10th since the state resumed carrying out the death penalty in 2021, ending a six-year moratorium brought on by concerns about its execution methods. The state had one of the nation’s busiest death chambers until problems arose in 2014 and 2015. Richard Glossip was hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug. It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.

Oklahoma's next scheduled execution is Nov. 30, when Phillip Hancock is set to receive a lethal injection for killing two men in Oklahoma City in 2001.

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For more AP coverage of death penalty cases: https://apnews.com/hub/executions

 

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