When court convened on Monday morning, May 1, 2023, Jesse McFadden, convicted rapist and registered sex offender, failed to appear for the start of his trial. He faced charges of possessing child pornography and soliciting sexual conduct with a minor.
According to police officials, instead of going to court, McFadden took his own life after killing his wife, her three children, and two teenagers. Questions remain about whether red flags warned of the tragedy to come and whether law enforcement ignored those warnings.
What do we know?
McFadden had served 17 years of a 20-year sentence for rape before being granted early release in 2020, eventually settling in Okmulgee County in May 2022, with his future wife and her two children. As required by Oklahoma law, McFadden registered as a sex offender upon his release from prison.
According to news reports, the pending criminal charges for which McFadden was to appear on May 1st were related to his possession of a cell phone while incarcerated in 2017. Although prosecutors in Muskogee County filed the child pornography and solicitation charges in 2017 while McFadden was still in custody, the new charges did not interfere with his early release from prison.
Police responded to a missing endangered person report on Monday, May 1st. Two teenage girls, who were friends of McFadden’s stepdaughter, were reported to be with McFadden. When police officers went to McFadden’s home, they discovered the bodies of the missing teens and McFadden’s wife and her three children. All victims were shot multiple times. The body of McFadden, who apparently took his own life, was also found.
Relatives of the victims want to know – What went wrong?
In the eyes of the victims’ families, friends, and multiple members of the general public, several things appear to have gone wrong and seem to have contributed to this tragedy:
· Why was McFadden eligible for early release from prison on the rape conviction when prison officials found him possessing an illegal contraband cellphone, and local prosecutors charged him with using the phone to commit two criminal offenses?
· Why was McFadden released on a $25,000 bond on the new criminal charges in light of his past criminal record and the fact that the new charges were alleged to have been committed while he was still in prison?
· Could local law enforcement have done more to monitor McFadden as a registered sex offender?
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections issued a statement saying that it complied with the law by releasing an inmate who had served 85%of his sentence, which is the minimum a person must serve before being eligible for early release if their crime falls within the list of violations which require that mandatory minimum percentage of incarceration.
Once McFadden served 17 years of his 20-year sentence, he reached the 85% mark and was eligible to apply credits he’d banked for behavior and attitude, general hygiene, and other reasons allowed by law.
A state lawmaker has plans of proposing a change to state law that would prevent the early release of some inmates. If the legislation comes to fruition, inmates convicted of rape or sexual abuse of a child would be denied early release and be forced to serve their entire sentence.
Nevertheless, that seems more like simple political posturing. After all, keeping convicted sex offenders in prison for the entire term of their sentence may only delay rather than prevent another McFadden situation. The real issue revolves around what happens to convicted sex offenders after they are released and what type of oversite is enforced regarding their sex-offender-specific rules and conditions.
Could law enforcement have done more?
State law in Oklahoma obligates local law enforcement to monitor and regulate registered sex offenders. Local officials responding to their handling of the McFadden situation said they did all they could to monitor McFadden within the scope of the current sex offender registration laws. They acknowledge that entering a person’s home without consent to conduct a search can violate their rights, even when dealing with a registered sex offender.
Still, those sex-offender-specific terms and conditions seriously limit the privacy expectations that registrants can have based on terms they sign and agree to, not only as part of their sentence but also once they initially register with the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry. Moreover, anyone who has dealt with the Oklahoma criminal justice system knows it’s not terribly difficult to develop probable cause and get a search warrant.
More often than not, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The tragedy caused by McFadden should not become an excuse to ignore individual rights. Neighbors of sex offenders in Oklahoma must already be notified by local law enforcement of offenders living in their midst. It’s doubtful whether the McFadden tragedy could have been prevented by allowing police officers and sheriff's deputies to conduct arbitrary, nonconsensual searches of an offender and their home. A coordinated search planned at the right time, though? That may have led to a different result if more information was known to support the same.
After all, the local sheriff’s office already knew where McFadden lived and the ages and identities of the other people living in the home with him. It’s hard to believe that a random house search would have yielded anything that could have prevented the killing of six innocent victims. Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to wish that something different could have been done.