#AprilsStory Why didn’t she stay away?

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 03/07/2022, 7:23 PM
Edited: 05/02/2022, 1:25 AM

(TULSA, Okla.) This year will mark 24 years that April Wilkens has been in prison. 

Wilkens met Terry Carlton, son of Tulsa millionaire Don Carlton, in 1995. Their three-year relationship was a whirlwind of spending, vacations, drugs, and abuse. 

Less than a year after their final break-up, Wilkens was arrested for his murder. 

Read VNN’s previous story on the April Wilkens case here.

But it wasn’t murder to Wilkens; she had been suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome. 

Susan Sharp is a David Ross Boyd professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma and has actually taught classes inside Mabel Bassett where Wilkens is serving her life sentence, through the Inside Out prison exchange student program. 

“Let me be very clear, battered women syndrome is not a self-defense type of defense, it's closer to insanity,” Sharp said. “The argument is that ongoing abuse over a long period of time does so much damage and instills so much fear that a reasonable person would not see any other way out of the situation.” 


Sharp said the State of Oklahoma is extremely punitive towards women, especially in cases like these. 

“Our women are not more criminal than women in any other state, yet we lock up more of them than any state but Idaho per capita,” Sharp said. “Particularly if they're not wealthy, they're not well-educated, then they are seen as fallen women, basically. They’re doubly deviant. They’re deviant because of whatever law they’ve violated and they’re deviant because they’re not living up to the standards of ideal womanhood.” 

VNN recently talked to Wilkens from Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, where she is currently incarcerated. She admits she was not an ideal woman. 

“When I look back at that time, I wonder, are there any ideal perfect people and are there any people that don't have flaws?” Wilkens said. “It's very hard for me when I look back and I know that a lot of the things that I succumbed to or fell into following the abuse were later turned around and used by the prosecutors to blame me for the abuse.” 

So, why didn’t she just stay away? 

She did. Wilkens filed multiple protective orders against Carlton. But he was the one who refused to stay away. And the police did not bother to enforce the orders. 

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Wilkens said for months Carlton broke into her home, cutting her phone lines, destroying her locks, trashing her house, and stealing her weapons to defend herself. 

Carlton was even arrested outside of her house with a loaded gun. An emergency protective order was granted to Wilkens that night, but she said she dropped it after Carlton threatened her life. 

Wilkens told us he called her from jail and showed up at her house as soon as he bailed himself out. 

A warrant was issued for Carlton’s arrest in March of 1998, after he failed to appear in court for the gun charge. For the next month, he continued to terrorize her. 

“The victim leaving gets them out of the sphere of control of the batterer, so when that happens, then the batter is going to try to re-establish control, even if that means killing the person,” Sharp said.  

Wilkens called the police on Carlton but instead of arresting him for his warrant, the officer took Wilkens to a Parkside, a local mental hospital where she was forced to take drugs and undergo treatment for delusions.

“I know for a fact that someone is trying to hurt me and hurt my child and my life is in danger and my child’s life is in danger,” Wilkens said. “He told me that he had the police take me to a mental institution so that it would teach me that he was the only person that cared about me.” 

She escaped and went home, and said she was kidnapped by Carlton soon after, then held hostage for days until she could escape from him. The cops came and took both of them to Parkside. 

Only Wilkens was forced to remain there. Carlton again was allowed to walk free. 

Wilkens was then transferred to Eastern State Hospital, now defunct. A nurse and three employees witnessed Carlton show up and lose his temper on Wilkens, threatening her and making a scene. 

She was released the next day and returned home to find it had been ransacked, yet again. 

Wilkens said she spent the next day and a half trying to find protection, but Carlton told her he’s bribed the police and her own friends not to help her. 

“Abuse is about control of the victim, and one of the ways that they can control the victim is keeping that person away from other people,” Sharp said. “So they very methodically keep them away from friends and family, slowly until there's no support left.”  

Seeing no other choice, Wilkens went to Carlton’s house to plead for a truce. 

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But there would be no truce. 

The night she killed Carlton, Wilkens was beaten and raped, all documented by a SANE nurse the next day. And it wasn’t the first time it had happened, nor the first time it had been documented. 

The cycle of abuse Wilkens endured for more than two years finally ended on April 28, 1998. Wilkens said she found Carlton’s gun and killed him with it when he tried to sodomize her. 

She was arrested for murder and sentenced to life in prison, where she remains to this day. 

A petition for the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt to commute Wilkens’ sentence and set her free is currently circulating.  


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