Tahlequah Daily Press

December 31, 2013

Homicides, Baby Veronica top stories for 2013

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Another year draws to a close Tuesday at midnight, and many will take some time to reflect on the happy - and not so happy - events of the last 365 days.

In the news business, reporters and editors like to look back on the biggest stories of the year. The Tahlequah Daily Press asked people on the street and Facebook followers to name some stories they followed during 2013.

Some of the biggest local stories were, in no particular order:

1. The homicide of Tiffany Maher, an assistant professor of chemistry at Northeastern State University, sent chills through Tahlequah. Maher was found dead during a welfare check after she failed to show for an academic conference. Investigators believe the perpetrator killed Maher sometime before Memorial Day, and attempted to set fire to her body and house. The smoke is thought to have killed her four cats. Joshua Schneider, 33, was taken into custody on July 27 after a manhunt. Authorities say the Broken Arrow man met Maher on the Internet. He faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree arson in Cherokee County.

2. A pair of traffic accidents claimed the lives of three area teens. On June 15, a mishap near Keys killed Paul Blevins Jr., 19, and Michael Rogers, 14, both of Tahlequah, when they were ejected from the bed of a pickup truck driven by Ray Molina. Now age 23, Molina faces two counts of first-degree manslaughter and DUI charges. On July 7, Oscar Landaverde and James Clay were struck by a vehicle along the Highway 51 bypass near Stick Ross Mountain Road. Landaverde, 17, died of his injuries. The vehicle driver was a juvenile. The most recent reports from authorities indicate the accident is still under investigation.

3. In mid-October, the Cherokee Nation and Dusten Brown - the biological father of “Baby Veronica” - announced they would pursue no further litigation for custody of the 4-year-old American Indian girl. Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a non-Native couple in South Carolina pursuing adoption of Veronica, assumed custody after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ended a stay permitting the girl to stay with her biological family during appeals. Other American Indian groups that filed lawsuits on Brown’s behalf also dropped their litigation. South Carolina dropped an extradition request accusing Brown of custodial interference and contempt of court.

4. Tahlequah voters approved a sales tax increase of 0.75 percent to fund $21 million in capital improvements. The tax will fund street projects, a new police station, fire department equipment, emergency management, parks and recreation projects and an add-on community facility at NSU’s multipurpose event center.

5. In municipal elections on April 2, Nate King was elected Chief of Police by a landslide with 58.11 percent of the vote. King, the director of community sentencing for Cherokee County, defeated incumbent Clay Mahaney, a 26-year law enforcement veteran.

6. Dakota Sanders, 3, was reported dead at Stepping Stone Rooming House on Nov. 19 by his babysitter, who found his body in bed next to her. His mother, Jery Danyce Sanders, and her boyfriend Buford Ellison, were taken into custody. Authorities believe Ellison strangled or smothered Dakota, and Jery Sanders put the boy in the babysitter’s bed several hours later. Jery Sanders, 36, has been charged. Ellison died of cancer on Dec. 3.

7. In the wake of the Dakota Sanders homicide, authorities conducted an investigation of the Stepping Stone Rooming House, which subsequently closed three days before a city deadline demanding multiple code violations be addressed or residents vacate the property. Many rooming house residents were unhappy with the pressure applied by the city, claiming the closure left them with nowhere to live. All living at Stepping Stone found new housing, though many reported their arrangements were temporary.

8. Alysa Horney, 2, was reported dead on Dec. 8 at her Woodall foster home by deputies of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and EMS responders. The Oklahoma Office of the Medical Examiner discovered internal injuries, apparently from a beating. Horney’s foster parent Delila A. Pacheco, 47, was arrested and held without bond, but has not been formally charged.

9. NSU officially opened its new multipurpose event center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 16. The $17.1 million facility can seat about 3,100 for basketball games, and more in other configurations. The ceremony was followed by a basketball doubleheader, with the NSU women losing to Drury in double overtime, 69-67, and the men defeating Harding, 72-66.

10. The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians was forced to close its casino after failing to place the lot at 2540 S. Muskogee Ave. into federal trust.

State stories gaining 2013 attention

1. Governor Fallin’s tax cut bill was rejected by the Oklahoma Supreme Court because it violated the state’s single-subject rule.

2. An EF-5 tornado struck Moore on May 20, killing 24 people

3. Two former legislators, Republican Randy Terrill and Democrat Debbe Leftwich, were convicted for their role in a bribery scheme

4. Baby Veronica

5. T.W. Shannon, 34, became Oklahoma’s youngest and first African-American leader of the state House of Representatives

6. Six sets of remains were found in two cars submerged in Foss Lake. The remains have general characteristics consistent with people who went missing in 1969 and 1970. Oklahoma State Highway patrolmen inadvertently found the cars while testing sonar equipment on the lake

Top national stories for 2013

1. The shutdown of the U.S. government

2. The Boston Marathon bombings

3. “Obamacare” Website startup is a flop

4. Gun control dies in the Senate

5. The George Zimmerman trial

6. Three women, kidnaped between 2002-04, escape sexual slavery at a house in Cleveland, Ohio. A daughter born to one of the women also escaped. The suspected kidnaper, Ariel Castro, hanged himself in his prison cell

7. The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act

8. The Moore tornado

9. Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency leaks

10. Flooding in Colorado kills eight

Big international stories included:

1. The succession of Pope Benedict XVI by Francis I

2. Snowden and the NSA leaks

3. The army coup d’etat in Egypt removes President Mohamed Morsi and suspends the constitution

4. The collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza in Bangladesh kills 1,129

5. Typhoon Haiyan

6. Westgate Mall attack in Kenya

7. Social unrest in Russia

8. The Syrian civil war

9. War in central Africa

10. The birth of Prince George