Oklahoma executed an inmate on Thursday for the 1996 m*urder of a University of Oklahoma dance student, a case that remained unsolved for years until DNA from the crime scene was matched to a man serving time in prison for burglary.
Anthony Sanchez, 44, was pronounced dead at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester at 10:19 a.m. after a three-drug injection.
Despite maintaining that he had nothing to do with Juli Busken’s death, he took the unusual step of declining to present a clemency application to the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, which many saw as the last chance to spare his life.
“I’m innocent,” Sanchez said while strapped to a gurney inside the execution chamber.
“I didn’t kill nobody.”
Sanchez chastised his former attorneys and thanked his supporters, including his spiritual adviser, who was present in the chamber, and the anti-death penalty organization Death Penalty Action.
Beginning around 10:08 a.m., the lethal drugs were administered, beginning with the sedative midazolam.
A member of the execution team entered the chamber during the execution 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 stated that he needed more time to review the case evidence.
Sanchez was found guilty of raping and mur*dering Juli Busken, a 21-year-old Benton, Arkansas, native who had just finished her final semester of college when she was abducted from the parking lot of her Norman apartment complex on December 20, 1996.
That evening, her body was discovered near Lake Stanley Draper in far southeastern Oklahoma City. She’d been shackled, raped, and shot in the head.
Busken had performed as a ballerina in several dance performances at OU and was honored with a dance scholarship in her name at the College of Fine Arts.
Years later, Sanchez was serving time in prison for burglary when DNA from sperm on Busken’s clothing at the crime scene was matched to him. In 2006, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Busken’s family did not attend the execution on Thursday, but state Attorney General Gentner Drummond said he had spoken with them several times in recent months.
“Juli was mur*dered 26 years, 9 months, and 1 day ago.” Drummond stated, “The family has found closure and peace.”
Sanchez has long maintained his innocence, and he did so again in a phone call to The Associated Press from death row earlier this year.
“That is fabricated DNA,” Sanchez explained.
“That is bogus DNA. That is not in my blood. I’ve been saying it since the beginning.”
He told the Associated Press that he would not seek clemency because even if the five-member Pardon and Parole Board recommends it, Gov. Kevin Stitt has been unlikely to grant it.
“I’ve sat in my cell and watched inmate after inmate get clemency and get denied clemency,” Sanchez explained.
“Either way, it doesn’t go well for the inmates.”
Drummond insisted that the DNA evidence unambiguously linked Sanchez to Busken’s murder.
A sample of Anthony Sanchez’s DNA “was identical to the profiles developed from sperm on Ms. Busken’s panties and leotard,” Drummond wrote in a letter to a state representative who inquired about Sanchez’s conviction last month.
Drummond went on to say that there was no evidence that either profile had been mixed with DNA from another person, and that the odds of randomly selecting someone 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 recently.
A private investigator hired by an anti-death penalty group claimed that the DNA evidence was contaminated and that an inexperienced lab technician misled a jury about the strength of the evidence.
Former Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall, who was the county’s top prosecutor at the time of Sanchez’s trial, has stated that while DNA evidence was the most compelling at trial, there was other evidence linking Sanchez to the murder, 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 a single piece of evidence that pointed to anyone other than Anthony Sanchez,” Kuykendall recently stated.
“I don’t care if a hundred or thousand people confess to killing Juli Busken.”
Sanchez is the third inmate executed in Oklahoma this year and the tenth since the state reinstated the death penalty in 2021, ending a six-year moratorium caused by concerns about the state’s execution methods.
Until 2014 and 2015, the state had one of the busiest death chambers in the country.
In September 2015, Richard Glossip was about to be executed when prison officials realized they had 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.