On September 6, 2011, neighbors of Paula Martin called police to report that they saw a man backing her car out of her garage before re-entering the home. This concerned her neighbors in the southwest Oklahoma City neighborhood, because Martin, 56, lived alone.
When police arrived, they discovered Martin's body--bound, wrapped in a blanket, and partially stuffed under a bed and hidden with a mattress. As they were investigating the scene, they discovered their suspect still on the premises, when he crashed through the attic into the garage.
Still, Dartangan Cotton, 20, denied having ever been inside the woman's home--despite the fact that police actually apprehended him inside the garage after he crashed through the ceiling.
Cotton, who lived two houses away from his victim, was subsequently charged with first degree burglary, first degree rape, and first degree murder. After learning that the woman had been raped and murdered by "traumatic asphyxiation," the district attorney found the crimes to be "heinous, atrocious, or cruel" and that Cotton would be a continued threat to society if he were ever to be released from prison. Based upon that finding, prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty.
Early in his case, Cotton was offered a plea deal that would have allowed him to escape the death penalty by pleading guilty to the crime. In exchange for his guilty plea, Cotton would receive life in without parole.
Still in his early 20's, Cotton rejected the plea, wishing instead to take his chances with a jury in hopes of avoiding conviction. On March 13, 2013, an Oklahoma County District Court judge ordered Cotton to stand trial for two counts of first degree rape, one count of first degree burglary, and one count of first degree murder.
As his case proceeded, however, Cotton must have begun to weigh the decision of life without parole against the very real possibility of death by lethal injection. Perhaps the recent "botched execution" of Clayton Lockett was on his mind as he considered whether he really had a chance to escape the death penalty by taking his case to trial.
On January 9, 2015, Cotton entered a guilty plea to all of the charges against him. Last Monday, Judge Glenn Jones sentenced Cotton, now 23, to life in prison without parole for the rape and murder charges. He was given an additional 20 years for the burglary conviction.
As he was in custody awaiting the resolution of his case, Cotton also earned two charges of possession of contraband in a penal institution, from August 2013 and December 2014. Those cases were also resolved with his guilty plea earlier this month. One was dismissed, but for the other, he was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison followed by 9 to 12 month of probation. This sentence is "to run consecutively" to his sentence of life without parole.