Who is April Wilkens?
Information about April’s case and how to help her is quickly changing. For the most recent news about April, please see our social media and current blog posts.
April Wilkens is a grandmother still serving a life sentence at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma for killing her wealthy rapist, kidnapper, blackmailer, and ex-fiance, Terry Carlton when she was in her twenties. Terry was the son of the wealthy Don Carlton, a man who started Honda and Acura dealerships in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Because of the Carlton family connections and Oklahoma’s corrupt criminal justice system, April has not found justice.
She has been incarcerated for over two decades and you can check out our timeline of important events up to the present that outlines issues regarding her case. It includes hyperlinked documentation that backs up our claims.
Besides having poor representation at her trial, there have been many other roadblocks for April’s freedom.
Don Carlton donated to the political campaign of the former DA, Tim Harris, who prosecuted April at her trail. Harris has been blamed for the wrongful convictions of Michelle Murphy and Cory Atchison, and we are not the only ones who think he was corrupt.
Beyond this, the Carltons were long-time family friends with the judge on the OK court of criminal appeals, Judge Charles Johnson. Johnson, who officiated the wedding of Don Carlton and his wife before the trial and the wedding of Terry Carlton’s niece afterwards, recused himself from voting in the decision on April Wilkens’s direct appeal, but he did not for her following appeals. How could he not be just as biased later on?
April struggled with drug use during her relationship with Terry Carlton, who forced her to take illegal substances many times and she would also do so to appease him. Terry had a criminal record and the Tulsa police refused to enforce a warrant for his arrest. He broke into her house multiple times and threatened to kill her and himself during their off-and-on relationship. She could not escape him, and she reached out for help many times in many different ways. April always feared for her young son’s life, and her son remembers being scared of Terry at times. April asked her son’s father to be more involved and to take full custody while she dealt with her struggles at the time.
During their relationship, Carlton took her on lavish vacations sponsored by news outlets (because their dealerships bought so much ad time) and he supplied the drugs. They met at the car dealership he owned. Terry later told April that his father made a deal with the FBI to take down Honda executives in order to avoid going to prison himself in one of the biggest commercial bribery cases according to TIME magazine (see links below). Terry also bragged about bribing Tulsa police officers whenever April would report his abuse.
April went to Terry’s mom when he started abusing her and his mother told her something like, “I’ve been beaten by a poor man and a rich man and I’d rather be beaten by a rich one, honey.” Terry Carlton was recorded before his death admitting to abusing and raping April. You can hear the audio of it here in a YouTube video made by producer and director Dave Randag:
This audio was not presented in court, despite April having given the tape to the police. You can read a full transcript here on this site.
April Wilkens claimed Battered Woman Syndrome during her trial, though the jury was influenced by the prosecution who claimed she did not fit the profile — to the outcry of many. BWS was fairly untested in OK courts at the time (see a list of past cases which have used BWS), and there was little precedent. Part of the jury’s reasoning was that she was not married to Terry Carlton, and thus not financially tied to him. However, Terry Carlton was promising to help her with her struggling business off and on, had sued her to manipulate her, and was blackmailing her with nude photographs. An expert on Battered Woman Syndrome has even diagnosed April, and this was ignored. This expert was not called in as a witness during April’s trial.
About a year after April argued BWS, another Oklahoma woman, Saundra Kay Medlin, argued the same thing for killing her abusive husband while he slept. She got four years but later had her conviction completely overturned.
So why is April still in prison?
Don Carlton’s close friendship with the DA, Tim Harris, who prosecuted April and the former presiding judge, Charles Johnson, of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals during her appeals (now retired), is one reason why we believe April is still behind bars. She has been incarcerated since April 1998. She has been denied parole 4 times despite different state parole investigators recommending she make parole to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. She has also been denied commutation twice, the last time in 2019. In the past, she has almost been granted her freedom by a 2 to 3 vote, just needing one more vote to get the board’s recommendation in the hands of the Governor. In 2022, she was denied parole again, not even being granted a hearing this time by an all-male board comprised of Scott Williams, Edward J. Konieczny, and Richard Smothermon (Kelly Doyle, a previous YES vote, had just resigned). Larry Morris was the only board member to vote yes to grant her a hearing. This came during the same meeting that the Crossbow Killer, Jimmie Stohler, got a full parole recommendation from the board.
With the Carlton family’s blessing, then-DA Tim Harris offered April a 20-year manslaughter deal which she turned down without hesitation. Nobody told her then, but she could have discharged that and possibly been out in fewer years with good behavior time, proving that the Carltons are not afraid of her and never were, despite their protests later on against her release.
And we can’t help but wonder, if her trial was today, would the age of #MeToo treat her case differently? Maybe not in Oklahoma, where we still incarcerate the most women per capita of any state. She is also well educated and was treated as if she should have “known better.” She was a mother who did not have full custody of her son. All of this weighed against her here in Oklahoma because she was “failing” their standard of womanhood. The former chief public defender, Robert Nigh, even said that April was done a great injustice.
The questions about “why she went to her house that day” are part of a system that allows for victims-blaming. He had stolen her property and had it in his house. She had every right to be there, to confront him about his violence and harassment, and to stand her ground when he attacked her. It was self-defense. We have no doubt that she feared for her life in that moment when she shot Terry Carlton. He had abused her many times before and was about to do it again–probably kill her. We wish she could gotten real help all those times she called the Tulsa police, but they failed her. In the words of attorney Lynn Worley, who attended the trial:
“…this case is the poster child for how Oklahoma’s legal system fails abused women and abusers alike….Prior to this trial, I had considered working for the D.A.’s office until I sat through a week of jury selection and heard Tim Harris’s opening statement. From that moment on I knew that I would rather be a greeter at Wal-Mart for the rest of my days than work for someone who cannot assess and do the right thing in light of the circumstances. He knew that the law enforcement System failed to protect April and punish Terry Carlton at numerous junctures throughout the relationship, and, that like a spoiled and undisciplined child, he knew he could do what he wanted with no repercussions. Rather than offer a reasonable plea bargain, he sucked up to and pandered to the Carlton family for political gain. If Terry Carlton had ben a regular Joe from a regular family who worked a minimum wage job, based on these facts, history and forensic evidence, I honestly believe she would not even have been charged. Further, it begs the question if he was a ‘regular’ citizen, would the murder ever have happened at all?? A regular Joe would have been incarcerated long before April 1997 for the abuse he inflicted upon her and the violations of court orders that were committed repeatedly.”
For more context:
This is the link to April’s previous commutation application, if you would like more context in her own words: https://aprilwilkensblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/10/april-wilkens-commutation-link/
What April wishes the state of Oklahoma, the Governor, and the Pardon and Parole Board knew:
Timeline of Events (Long Version, with Hyperlinked Documentation)
What can you do?
- Listen to and share the new podcast series about April called Panic Button: The April Wilkens Case.
- Donate the Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law & Justice and/or purchase a Free April Wilkens shirt to support their work with the podcast and legislation that could help criminalized survivors like April in the state of Oklahoma.
- Sign the Change.org petition to commute April’s sentence and draw attention to her case.
- You can download printable flyers and post them to help us spread awareness of her case.
- You can write words of encouragement to April at: April Wilkens #282399 MBCC C3B-206 29501 Kickapoo Rd McLoud, OK, United States 74851
- Write to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board members via email at Boardmembers@ppb.ok.gov or by leaving a voice mail message at 405-522-9227. April comes up for parole again in 2025, but can apply for commutation any time between now and then.
- Contact Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt by writing to: Office of Governor J. Kevin Stitt 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Suite 212 Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Phone 405-521-2342 (Open M-F; 8 am – 5 pm).
- Follow us on other social media and share our posts:
“Abused woman gets life sentence: The case causes an outcry from those who say she acted because of battered woman syndrome:” https://tulsaworld.com/archive/abused-woman-gets-life-sentence/article_92acd762-e5a5-586e-8ec6-6d0b9ab02690.html#:~:text=A%2029%2Dyear%2Dold%20Tulsa,death%20of%20Terry%20Carlton%2C%2040 .
“Woman convicted of murder:” https://tulsaworld.com/archive/woman-convicted-of-murder/article_3a571e9a-0559-5842-a98d-02adb80b2eeb.html
“Honda Payola Went on for Years, FBI Says : Inquiry: Observers ask how the company could have allowed such a widespread illicit enterprise to continue for so long.” LA Times: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-03-16-fi-34784-story.html
“Honda Scam Biggest Ever” TIME: http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,3976,00.html_.
“DA’s race among most monied” https://tulsaworld.com/archive/das-race-among-most-moneyed/article_f004c170-7058-5034-b230-722e8ba36f39.html