#AprilsStory The Lone Crusaders
(TULSA, Okla.) “For her to be in jail two decades now, it just seems really unfair.”
April Wilkens has been in prison for most of Amanda Ross’s life.
“I was sheltered from it growing up,” Ross said. “And it wasn't until the past few years that I've really dived into the case, and started learning things on my own, that I have taken the reins, so to speak, of advocacy for April.”
Wilkens’ niece on her mother’s side, Ross started the Free April Wilkens blog back in 2016.
“I'm able to do a lot more than my parents are tech-wise," Ross said. "But I am also outraged with how the State of Oklahoma treats women. And if you're looking for a place to start advocating for these women who are incarcerated, you know, it's really easy for me to start with my aunt.”
After numerous failures by police and the Tulsa County court system, Wilkens was sentenced to life in prison for killing her rapist and abuser Terry Carlton in 1998.
From former District Attorney Tim Harris accepting campaign contributions from the family of Wilkens’ abuser to an impartial judge who decided to stop recusing himself from Wilkens’s appeals, Ross tells us chronicling the decades of injustices has been no easy feat.
Local and national media silence on the case has only made matters worse.
Carlton was the son of Don Carlton of Don Carlton Honda, one of the largest advertisers of local media in the Tulsa area. Wilkens’ side of the story received little coverage at the time of her sentencing, and zero coverage in the Tulsa news market outside of VNN to this day.
We reached out to KOTV, FOX23, KRMG, KJRH, and KTUL to ask if pressure from Don Carlton Honda is preventing them from covering the April Wilkens case. None have responded.
Despite all of the cards stacked against them, Ross still believes Wilkens will be a free woman one day.
“I think two decades is long enough for a woman to be fighting for her freedom under these circumstances,” Ross said.
Ross’s childhood friend Ashlyn Faulkner joined her quest for justice shortly after Ross started the blog.
“I always kind of knew a little bit of April, but I didn't really know the full story until Amanda started that big push to really advocate for her,” Faulkner said.
Faulker said the more she learned about the case, the more it shocked her.
“I would find out the more she would inform me and, you know, the case seemed one way at first, and then you learn all these extra details and you're like, okay, it's actually very backwards and very insane,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner, a local artist, was working on a project for a friend’s law office when Wilkens’ case came up. The friend recommended Faulkner contact Glen Blake, a lawyer who runs the Public Defender Clinic at the University of Tulsa, to help.
Blake agreed to represent Wilkens at her next parole hearing.
That opportunity moved further out of reach on March 7 when the parole board voted 1-3 to deny Wilkens a parole hearing, despite her being granted a parole hearing the last two times she was eligible.
VNN obtained this copy of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s decision to deny Wilkens a parole hearing this year, in which the words “DA Protest Letter” are printed in the upper right corner.
We asked the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office for a copy of the protest.
It shows Tulsa DA Stephen Kunzweiler objected to April Wilkens being granted parole this year due to quote “the nature of the offense, and the facts of the Offense”. The protest also stated he believes the sentence imposed by the jury more than 20 years ago is appropriate, Wilkens is still a risk to the public, and Wilkens should not be granted parole for another 17 years.
Wilkens will not get another chance for a parole hearing until 2025.
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.
“I'm ready to, you know, stop doing this work and help her land on her feet to flourish outside of prison,” Ross said.
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