Oklahoma county leaders caught on audio talking about killing reporters, complaining they can no longer lynch Black people
NBC News – Corky Siemaszko
April 17, 2023
“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said.
The governor of Oklahoma has called for the resignations of the sheriff and other top officials in a rural county after they were recorded talking about “beating, killing and burying” a father/son team of local reporters — and lamenting that they could no longer hang Black people with a “damned rope.”
“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said in a statement released Sunday. “There is simply no place for such hateful rhetoric in the state of Oklahoma, especially by those that serve to represent the community through their respective office.”
Stitt, a Republican, said he has ordered the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to “initiate an investigation to determine whether any illegal conduct has occurred.”
None of the four officials named by Stitt could be reached for comment, but late Monday the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that the recording was “illegally obtained,” appears to have been altered, and may have been produced in violation of state law prohibiting secret recordings by third parties.
The office, which said it has received threats of violence and death over the saga, said it was investigating how the recording was obtained and whether it violated the secret recording law.
Investigative findings, the sheriff’s office said, will be “forwarded to the appropriate authorities for felony charges to be filed on those involved.”
The Willinghams also did not respond to inquiries from NBC News. But Kilpatrick Townsend, the law firm representing the Willingham family, said they appreciated the expressions of support.
“For nearly a year, they have suffered intimidation, ridicule and harassment based solely on their efforts to report the news for McCurtain County,” the statement said.
“My papaw would have whipped his ass, would have wiped him and used him for toilet paper,” Manning said of the younger Willingham, according to the newspaper. “If my daddy hadn’t been run over by a vehicle, he would have been down there.”
Jennings then piped in, saying “I know where two big, deep holes are here if you ever need them.”
“I’ve got an excavator,” Clardy chimed in, according to the newspaper.
Jennings, according to the newspaper, then said he knew “two or three hit men” who belong to the Louisiana mafia.
“They’re very quiet guys and would cut no f—ing mercy,” he reportedly said.
There was also “caustic” criticism of local District Attorney Mark Matloff, the newspaper reported in the first batch of recordings it released.
“Some of the discussion included not only harsh criticism of judges, but also the possibility of assaults on judges here,” the newspaper reported.
“Yeah,” Clardy replied, according to the newspaper. “It’s not like that no more.”
“I know,” said Jennings. “Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damned rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They’ve got more rights than we’ve got.”
In the wake of the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Willingham hired a freelancer named J.D. Cash who produced a number of scoops about the investigation into the deadly terror attack and who was later derided as a “conspiracy theorist” by some of the newspaper’s competitors. Cash died in 2007.