Innocent man paroled after 20 years
Racism got life sentence for “nigger” in Kingfisher County, Okla.

First, the good news. On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-0 to grant parole to Larry Yarbrough, Sr. He’ll be released from prison in a month or two at age 67.

Larry Yarbrough, Sr.

Few prisoners deserve freedom more than Larry Yarbrough.

But it’s hard to be happy about his case.

Despite evidence pointing to his innocence and racism, a black man will have spent 20 years behind bars.

In 2014, The Clemency Report located a 2,713-page transcript of his 1997 trial. The case read like one from 1897 rather than 1997.

The setting was not friendly to people of color. Blacks make up less than 1% of the population of Kingfisher County, Okla.  Yarbrough was the only black business owner. His first two barbecue joints were burned to the ground in unsolved arsons. In 2016, Donald Trump got 84% of the vote.

The trial included this memorable exchange between Yarbrough’s talented out-of-town defense attorney and the county’s elected sheriff:

Defense attorney Douglas Parr: Mr. Graham, other than in reference to discussion of the O.J. Simpson case, have you ever used the word “nigger” to describe black people?

Sheriff Danny Graham: I said I’ve said that word, yes.

Parr: More than once?

Graham: In my life?

Parr: More than once?

Graham: More than once.

Parr: More than 10 times.

Graham: I’ve said that word.

Parr: More than ten times?

Graham: Probably.

Parr: More than 10 times in the last three years?

Graham: Probably.

Parr: More than 20 times?

Prosecutor E.A. “Ard” Gates: (Objecting.) Your honor, I think he’s made his point.

Judge Susie Pritchett: Sustained.

The word “sustained” — “continuing for an extended period or without interruption” — was an apt description for what was happening, just not as the judge intended. To paraphrase…racism sustained is justice denied.

Google Maps view of Kingfisher County Courthouse


Oklahoma activist and filmmaker Mark Faulk made this outstanding short video on Larry’s case.

 

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