With that simple act of hospitality, Brooks Douglass unwittingly set in motion a series of events that would shape the course of his life. It took 17 years, and changes in state law that Douglass himself later helped fashion, before he would find some peace of mind, believing that justice had finally won out over the terrible violence that walked through his door that night.
Moments after the stranger, Glen Burton Ake, 24, entered the Douglass home, a second man, Steven Keith Hatch, 26, burst through the door wielding a double-barreled shotgun. "You know what it's all about," barked Ake, pulling a .357 magnum from his boot. Brooks and his parents were forced to the living room floor and bound with heavy twine. Ake gathered all the money he could find, a mere $43, then led Leslie into her bedroom. He ordered her to remove the burgundy leotard she'd worn to gym class that afternoon, and, as the family listened helplessly to her agonizing cries, he raped her. Then, says Leslie Douglass Frizzell, now 29, Ake left and Hatch came in and raped her again.
Afterward, Leslie was hog-tied like her parents and brother, and the two men stood in the kitchen and ate the family's supper from the stove. For two hours, the intruders terrorized the bound family members with threats while they debated what to do with them. A sobbing Sue Douglass begged for mercy. But at last, "Ake told Hatch to go start the car and 'listen for the sound,' " Brooks Douglass, now 32, recalls. "Ake said, 'I don't want to have to shoot you, but...' The first shot hit me in the back. On the second shot, I heard Mother scream." When it was all over, Richard and Sue Douglass lay dying. Their son and daughter, both shot in the back, were grievously injured, but alive.
Five weeks and two more killings later, Ake and Hatch were captured at a ranch in Colorado, and, in separate trials in 1980, they were sentenced to death. But, in fact, their business with the shattered family had only begun. For the next 16 years, their lives and the lives of the two Douglass children would be inextricably tangled, not only by the memory of the carnage that October evening, but by a tortuous odyssey of trials and hearings that finally reached a conclusion of sorts last week at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. While Glen Ake, the triggerman, continues to serve a life sentence, his accomplice, Steven Keith Hatch, died by lethal injection a little after midnight on Aug. 9.
Inside a booth, behind tinted glass windows, Brooks Douglass, now an Oklahoma state senator, watched with his sister as one of their tormentors breathed his last. A conservative Republican, Douglass had authored the bill that allowed him, and other families of murder victims, to witness executions. Douglass and his sister were the first to directly view an execution, and for him, at least, the experience had the desired effect. "The past seems to have been purged," he said after Hatch's death. "We put a period at the end of the chapter, and now we've turned the page."
Hatch was no natural born killer. Ake acknowledged as much in a confession he signed shortly after he and Hatch were captured: "Steve can't kill nobody because he don't have no guts to do nothing." The second of three children, Hatch was born Oct. 9, 1953, in American Fort, Utah. His parents—Keith Hatch, a steelworker, and his home-maker wife, Frances—were churchgoing Mormons. "The home we grew up in was strong in love, faith in God, and in doing what was right," Hatch's older brother Dan, 46, wrote in a recent letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
Though an indifferent student, Hatch stayed out of trouble and was even an avid Boy Scout. "He was very kind, gentle, easygoing," his brother wrote. But when Steven was 11, his life took the first of many dark turns: His mother died during open-heart surgery. "It was like the end of the world for me," Hatch said during his final clemency hearing last month. As an adolescent, he began to rebel, delving into drugs, stealing cars and forging checks. Finally, he was committed to a reformatory, the Utah State Industrial School in Ogden, where records described him as "academically retarded" and "easily directed by others."
Released in 1970, Hatch joined the Marines, serving for two years at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and earning a good conduct medal. After his 1973 discharge, he met and married Nancy Ake, and moved to Oklahoma where Nancy's family lived—including Glen, her brother, who had a well-paying job as a driller in the oil fields. "Glen was really hotheaded," Hatch said in court last month. "[He] also liked to use drugs. That was the bond between us."
Their ties were strengthened when Ake began dating Hatch's sister Teresa. But, according to Hatch, on Oct. 10, 1979, she went off to celebrate her birthday with another man and Ake flew into a rage, threatening to kill her. Hatch said he intervened, but three days later, his wife left him, taking their 3-year-old son, Brian, with her. Despondent, doped-up on speed and irrationally convinced the law was in hot pursuit of both of them, Ake and Hatch walked off their jobs at an oil rig outside Enid, Okla., and headed south on Highway 81. The nightmare had begun.
Their first stop was at the Hennessey Okla., home of Dale and Pat Cameron and their two young sons, where the men stole $1,500 at gunpoint and fled. About 40 miles south, they spied an isolated, white ranch house and chose it as their next target. It was the Douglass home. Over the next two weeks, they apparently made their way to New Orleans, then headed west toward Texas. On Nov. 2, near Lumberton, Texas, Ake and Hatch robbed Dale Kokenes, 35, and his friend, Yerby Land III, 27, two surveyors. This time, Ake told Hatch to do the killing. In his confession, Ake boasted, "Steve couldn't do it, no way in hell.... So I went in there and pulled off two rounds."
On Nov. 20, 1979, during a bitter winter storm, Ake and Hatch drove Land's car into a snowdrift 200 yards from the ranch of Mike Pondella in northwest Colorado. When Pondella heard his ice-covered porch crackling under the weight of the intruders, he opened the door, only to find a shotgun trained on his head. Ake ordered Pondella into a bedroom and told him to lie down on his bed. "I had a little dog named Boots, a little three-legged Border collie," Pondella, 64, recalls. "Anyway, that little dog used to jump up and sleep on the foot of the bed. When I laid down, the dog jumped up, and [Ake] blew that little dog all over the place."
Remarkably Pondella was able to calm the two men, and the three of them wound up chugging beers together. "They told me how they killed those people in Oklahoma," Pondella says. When Ake and Hatch fell asleep, Pondella drove off and fetched county deputies, who raced to the ranch and trapped the fugitives, who were trying to escape on foot through the snow.
In the weeks after their parents had been murdered, the gravely injured Douglass children were under police guard in a local hospital, recovering from their wounds. Two bullets had torn through Leslie's back, piercing a lung and a kidney and ripping her intestines. Brooks had suffered a severed esophagus, a collapsed lung and puncturing of the pericardial sac protecting his heart. When Brooks and Leslie were released after three weeks to relatives living in an Oklahoma City missionary house, they were still far from recovery. Worse, they could not shake the images of that bloody last night in what had been their loving home.
Bleeding badly, and with his hands still hog-tied to his feet, Brooks had slid on his belly through pools of blood to his fallen father, repeating "I love you" over and over again. With his teeth, he had tried loosening his father's bonds, but Rev. Douglass whispered, "Don't worry about that. Get your mother untied." Wriggling back to Sue, Brooks managed to untie her ropes. "I got down in Mom's face and told her she was loose," he recalls. "I was looking right in her eyes. Then her eyes faded, and she fell back and her feet slammed down. I turned to Dad and said, 'Mom's dead,' and he never said another word."
Leslie, meanwhile, had worked her feet free. Also bleeding profusely, she got a knife from the kitchen and cut her brother loose. "I was so numb, and the adrenaline so high," she says. "I had kind of shut out all the physical pain." Before fleeing the house, Brooks took a last look at his mother, a gifted soprano who had turned down a scholarship to Juilliard, and his father, who had taught Brooks how to throw a curveball. "I knew he would be dead before I got help," Douglass recalls. Only recently, reviewing crime scene photos for the first time, did Douglass see that his father had summoned enough strength for one final gesture: "My dad had somehow made his way over to my mother and put his head on her shoulder."
The Douglass children, still in the hospital, could not attend their parents' funeral, at which more than 2,000 mourners, including then-Gov. George Nigh of Oklahoma, filled Rev. Douglass's church. After she got out, Leslie settled in with her mother's cousins Jean and John Baker of Lindsay, Okla. In the years that followed, she lived as normal a life as she could manage. In school she became a cheerleader, a drum majorette and homecoming queen. Later, she graduated from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, earning a master's degree in educational administration in 1993.
But her psychological scars remained more painful than those made by Glen Ake's bullets. In recurrent nightmares, hulking men appeared at her door, and one night, during a ninth-grade slumber party, Leslie's best friend, Leah Fields, heard her sobbing in her sleeping bag on the floor. "I sat on the floor and she looked at me," recalls Fields, now 30. " 'We were on the floor when they shot us,' she told me." A month later, at a Valentine's Day party, Fields saw Leslie smiling tenderly, wearing a coat that had been her mother's. "Leslie said that she had found a Kleenex in the pocket of her coat," Fields says. "She could smell her mother's perfume, and it made her happy."
Dating, awkward for most adolescents, was harrowing for the young rape victim. "If [boys] made advances toward me, it was like, 'What do you think you're doing?' " says Leslie. In 1987, she married fellow student Chris Coffey, with whom she had a son, Zachary, now 8, and a daughter, Caitlin, 6. But continuing anxiety over her parents' slaying, and the strain of seemingly endless court appearances, took its toll; the couple divorced in 1993. The next year, Leslie married RV salesman Greg Frizzell, 25, whom she met at a hockey game. The family lives in Yukon, Okla., where she now teaches fifth grade.
For Brooks Douglass, the early years after the tragedy were a downward spiral of sleeplessness, depression and alcohol abuse. Though he finished high school, he says he dropped out of Oklahoma Baptist University "after eight weeks of not attending classes." Brooks bounced to Denver and then to Alabama, getting by on odd jobs he found along the way. Eventually, he made his way to Chattanooga, where an uncle encouraged him to enroll at the University of Tennessee. Brooks enjoyed two academically solid quarters there before transferring to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he studied for the ministry. But he had become a binge drinker. "One night, I got so drunk I woke up throwing up blood," he recalls. "I drank to take my mind off the deaths. I probably felt it was the only time I could be myself."
Not surprisingly, he was suspended for low grades and a disruptive attitude. "I was in trouble for several different things," he admits ruefully. "One was running through campus with no shirt and a bandanna on my head singing, 'Mama's got a squeeze box' " a line from a tune by The Who Ultimately, Douglass persuaded the school to take him back. He graduated with a degree in accounting and finance in 1985, then went into the real estate business. The next year, he wed Dana McClendon, a woman he had known since junior high. They divorced four years later, and Douglass was remarried this July to Mallory Roberts, 26, an attorney.
Douglass describes 1986 as "one of the most miserable years of my life." That was the year that Glen Ake was granted a retrial on grounds that he had been denied sufficient psychiatric help to assist in his insanity defense. (After being sentenced to life that year, he received drug treatment in prison for schizophrenia.) "I began to realize," Douglass says, "that we had a system that literally stepped over the body of the victim to read the rights of the perpetrator, and that the defendant had more rights than the victims."
Angry and frustrated, he enrolled in Oklahoma City University Law School in 1988. "I decided to fight back by understanding how the system worked," he says. Douglass ran for state senate in 1990, winning a four-year term in November, the month before he received his law degree. In 1992, he sponsored a victims' rights bill, allowing families of murder victims to tell juries how the killings had changed their lives.
And in February 1995, on a tour of the state penitentiary, Douglass came face-to-face with one of the men who had changed the course of his life. Though Hatch was secluded on death row, Ake was in the general population. "I became fearful that I might walk around the corner and bump into him," Douglass recalls. Finally, he spied his parents' killer in a prison yard. Though apprehensive, he asked the warden if he could speak to Ake.
The two men, separated by glass, met in a visiting room, talking over telephones. "I could hear his voice, and I choked up," says Douglass. "He scooted up close to the glass [and said], 'I'm so, so sorry for what I did to your family. I wanted you to know that. I'm in the wrong, and you're in the right, and I want you to put it behind you.' I told him that for the last 16 years 'I've wanted nothing more than to see you dead.' Later on I asked him, 'Why?' and he said, 'I've asked myself that a thousand times. It was just senseless.' "
As the two men talked, Douglass says, Ake "started crying. He was cuffed, trying to hold the phone and to wipe tears. It was really strange that part of me felt this closeness to him. This same event that happened 16 years earlier had created this weird bond." Finally, "I looked at him and I just said, 'I forgive you.' It was like poison draining out. It was the most emotional and dramatic thing that ever happened to me other than the shooting."
Douglass would have no such catharsis with Steven Keith Hatch, who refused to see him to the very end. Two weeks before he was executed, Hatch had a final clemency hearing, and Brooks Douglass and Leslie Frizzell took the stand, telling their anguished story one more time. Hatch was brought in to plead for his life, his wire-rimmed glasses and thin, pony-tailed red hair making him look more professorial than homicidal. "I am not the monster I have been portrayed to be," he began. "I am sorry beyond words for the pain I caused the Douglasses."
But as he faced execution, Hatch showed no remorse. In his failed, last-minute court appeal to delay the execution, Hatch said that he had seen news reports that the Douglasses were discussing book and movie deals about the case. Apparently angry that they might make money from his death, Hatch advised others in his last words to "be stronger than those who sit in judgment and prey upon you, for they are weak with lies and deception.... They will try to use you and profit from you for their own gains. They're evil and barbaric and politicians."
"He wasted his last words to take a potshot at me," Brooks Douglass says with a shrug. Leslie, furious that Hatch denied to the end that he had raped her, adds, "You could tell he was still the same old scum."
At 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 9, Hatch was strapped to the gurney in the death chamber, and IV tubes were hooked to each arm. Brooks,. Leslie and their mother's three brothers were seated facing the glass window. "I was looking to see if [Hatch] would change his mind and say something, or look at us," says Brooks. But asked by the warden if he had anything to say, Hatch murmured only, "No." Warden Ron Ward said, "Let the execution begin," and sodium thiopental was injected into Hatch's veins, rendering him unconscious. Then followed injections of chemicals to stop his lungs and heart. Douglass peered intently through the glass. Hatch began to snore, then his face grew "pale and even a bit blue," recalls Douglass. After seven minutes, Hatch was pronounced dead.
"He got what he should have gotten," says a mollified Douglass. But his sister has yet to find peace. "We were sitting there saying, 'I just can't believe it. This is it?' " she recalls. "We waited 17 years for him to go to sleep as peacefully as everybody else wishes they could die? There we were, listening to my mom vomit blood, and knowing how much pain they were in, and the worst pain he ever felt was the needle going into his arm. If he could have felt 10 percent of the pain that we felt, I would have at least felt better. It was just too easy."
ANNE MAIER in McAlester BOB STEWART in Oklahoma City and VICKIE BANE in Colorado
- Anne Maier,
- Bob Stewart,
- Vickie Bane.
ON THE NIGHT OF OCT. 15, 1979, 16-year-old Brooks Douglass breathed in a welcome aroma from the kitchen of his family's modest ranch house in rural Okarche, Okla. His mother, Marilyn Sue Douglass, 36, was cooking his favorite meal—rice and beef patties with mushroom gravy. His sister, Leslie—who, though only 12, was the reigning Miss Teen Oklahoma—was setting the dining room table, while in a bedroom their father, Dr. Richard Douglass, 43, pastor of the 3,000-member Putnam City Baptist Church, studied his scriptures. At 7:45 they heard dogs barking. Outside, Leslie found an unkempt stranger who claimed to be looking for a neighbor the family had never heard of. When the man asked to use a phone, Brooks invited him in.