Man Executed for the 1996 Killing of a University of Oklahoma Dance Student

Man Executed for the 1996 Killing of a University of Oklahoma Dance Student
Anthony Sanchez (R) is escorted into a Cleveland County, Okla., courtroom for a preliminary hearing in Norman, Okla., on Feb. 23, 2005. (Jaconna Aguirre/The Oklahoman via AP)
The Associated Press

McALESTER, Okla.—Oklahoma executed an inmate Thursday for the 1996 killing of a University of Oklahoma dance student—a case that went unsolved for years until DNA from the crime scene matched a man serving prison time for burglary.

Anthony Sanchez, 44, was pronounced dead at 10:19 a.m. following a three-drug injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. He had taken the unusual step of opting not to present a clemency application to the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, which many viewed as his last chance to have his life spared.

Mr. Sanchez was convicted of raping and murdering 21-year-old Juli Busken, a Benton, Arkansas, native who had just completed her last semester at the university when she was abducted on Dec. 20, 1996, from the parking lot of her Norman apartment complex. Her body was found that evening near Lake Stanley Draper in far southeastern Oklahoma City. She had been bound, raped, and shot in the head.

Years later, Mr. Sanchez was serving time for a burglary conviction when DNA from sperm on Busken’s clothing at the crime scene was matched to him. He was convicted and sentenced to die in 2006.

Busken had performed as a ballerina in several dance performances during her tenure at OU and was memorialized at the campus with a dance scholarship in her name at the College of Fine Arts.

Mr. Sanchez’s new attorney, Eric Allen of Columbus, Ohio, requested a stay of execution in federal court, claiming he needed more time to go through boxes of evidence in the case. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the request Thursday.

Mr. Sanchez had long maintained his innocence and did so again in a phone call to The Associated Press earlier this year from death row. “That is fabricated DNA,” Mr. Sanchez said. “That is false DNA. That is not my DNA. I've been saying that since day one.”

He told AP he declined to ask for clemency because even when the five-member Pardon and Parole Board takes the rare step of recommending it, Gov. Kevin Stitt has been unlikely to grant it. “I’ve sat in my cell and I’ve watched inmate after inmate after inmate get clemency and get denied clemency,” Mr. Sanchez said. “Either way, it doesn’t go well for the inmates.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond maintained the DNA evidence unequivocally links Mr. Sanchez to Busken's killing.

A sample of Anthony Sanchez's DNA “was identical to the profiles developed from sperm on Ms. Busken’s panties and leotard,” Mr. Drummond wrote last month in a letter to a state representative who had inquired about Mr. Sanchez's conviction. Mr. Drummond added there was no indication either profile was mixed with DNA from any other individual and that the odds of randomly selecting an individual with the same genetic profile were 1 in 94 trillion among Southwest Hispanics.

“There is no conceivable doubt that Anthony Sanchez is a brutal rapist and murderer who is deserving of the state’s harshest punishment," Mr. Drummond said in a recent statement.

A private investigator hired by an anti-death penalty group contends the DNA evidence may have been contaminated and that an inexperienced lab technician miscommunicated the strength of the evidence to a jury.

Former Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall, who was the county's top prosecutor when Mr. Sanchez was tried, has said that while the DNA evidence was the most compelling at trial, there was other evidence linking Mr. Sanchez to the killing, including ballistic evidence and a shoe print found at the crime scene.

“I know from spending a lot of time on that case, there is not one piece of evidence that pointed to anyone other than Anthony Sanchez,” Mr. Kuykendall said recently. “I don’t care if a hundred people or a thousand people confess to killing Juli Busken.”

Oklahoma resumed carrying out the death penalty in 2021, ending a six-year moratorium brought on by concerns about its execution methods. The state had one of the nation’s busiest death chambers until problems arose in 2014 and 2015. Richard Glossip was hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug. It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.