Exonerated. That’s the last word in the online court record for CF-2016-6934, the grand larceny and property theft charges filed against Luther Town Trustee Ron Henry almost a year ago in a property dispute with his neighbor. Those charges were dismissed Tuesday.
However, Mr. Henry and his wife, Brenda, did not get the same result on felony charges involving alleged notary fraud on absentee ballots for the April 2015 Town election. The state amended its charges at Tuesday’s preliminary hearing from ballot fraud to “conspiracy to commit false notarization.”
Oklahoma County District Judge Lisa Hammond sided with the state to bind the Henrys over for trial on the allegations they conspired with their neighbor, Cecilia Taft, to notarize absentee ballots.
Taft took the stand today as the state’s only witness, and she was asked to point out her neighbors from her spot in the witness chair. When the prosecutor asked her how she knew the Henrys, Taft said they were “long-time friends and had grown up in the same town of Luther.”
Taft, the former mayor of Luther, said she was contacted by telephone first by Brenda Henry in March 2015, “to see if I had time to notarize absentee ballots for Luther Town Board.”
The prosecutor asked who was running in the election, and Taft testified that is was “herself, Birlene Langley, Ronny and Carolyn Lawson.” However, according to Oklahoma State Election Board records, neither Taft nor Langley ran for election in 2015 but were elected in 2013. Ron Henry won the 2015 election; with Lawson defeating Mrs. Henry for an unexpired term.
As the questioning went on, Taft said that on one occasion Brenda Henry, by herself, brought four absentee ballots to Taft’s home to notarize, and on another date, Ron Henry, by himself, brought over one absentee ballot to notarize.
The prosecutor asked whether there are rules and training about notarizing a document without the person who signed them present; Taft said there was.
Asked the prosecutor, why did you notarize them?
“I trusted the individuals had signed them before coming to me,” Taft testified.
Taft testified that later that year, Mr. Henry contacted her and said that she might be contacted by law enforcement because “some people in Luther had filed they thought something was wrong with the absentee ballots.” Both Henry and Taft were serving on the Town Board of Trustees at the time. Henry remains a trustee, but Taft was defeated in April’s election.
When the Henrys’ attorney, Gary Wood, questioned Taft, he asked whether she had an agreement with the Henrys to commit false notarization on the absentee ballots. Taft said there was no reason to believe the absentee ballots were not signed appropriately.
Wood told the court that the state was not proving, nor presenting any evidence, such as the ballots themselves, to prove there was a conspiracy to commit false notarization. “All we know is there was no agreement; therefore, there was no conspiracy,” said Wood.
Judge Hammond disagreed and bound the Henrys over for trial on the state’s amended charge of one count each for Ron and Brenda Henry of “conspiracy to commit false notarization.” From the bench, she commented to the attorneys that she believes there is a lot of similar fraudulent cases involving elections that are not investigated; while Wood said there is precedent for notarization to be done without the signer present.
The Henrys are due back in court Tuesday at 3pm to complete the preliminary hearing and have the charges outlined. Taft is not charged in the case, but her attorney accompanied her to court. State records show Taft’s notary commission is expired.
UPDATE: at the 3pm hearing, both Ron and Brenda Henry stood before the judge as the judge told them they were being bound over for trial on one count each of felony conspiracy to commit false notarization. A plea of NOT GUILTY was entered on their behalf by the court, and another court date (procedural) is set for next month.
On the way out of the courtroom, The Luther Register asked Assistant District Attorney Lori McConnell whether charges will be pursued against Taft, and she said, “not at this time.”