The claim of the mother of Terence Crutcher’s children that she was his common-law wife remains on the table after a judge overruled a motion Tuesday from Crutcher’s family of origin.
Tulsa County District Judge Kurt Glassco said he would continue the matter for further arguments Wednesday morning before ruling on whether Frenchel Johnson was Crutcher’s common-law wife.
The decision Glassco makes will determine whether Johnson can play a role in litigation regarding Crutcher’s fatal shooting by a Tulsa police officer Sept. 16.
Johnson was appointed special administrator to Crutcher’s estate Sept. 23, but Glassco revoked that appointment during a Sept. 30 hearing and appointed Tulsa attorney Austin Bond in her place pending the outcome of the common-law determination. At that time, Johnson told the court she wants her uncle, Win Case, to be appointed in an effort to reconcile with Crutcher’s family.
In their challenge to Johnson’s possible role in estate proceedings, the family has cited her history with the criminal justice system and their belief that her relationship with Crutcher does not meet Oklahoma’s statutory standard for common-law marriage.
Attorneys for Crutcher’s family and for Johnson presented arguments for more than six hours Tuesday detailing what each side contends the relationship between Johnson and Crutcher had been. Dan Smolen, Johnson’s attorney, called multiple witnesses — including Johnson and Case — to testify.
Johnson’s 17-year-old son also testified, as did her former criminal defense attorney, Greg Denney; two of her neighbors; her friend Sherona Sellers; and her landlord, Tye Hardy.
“He was a good person. He was my backbone. He was my soulmate,” Johnson said of Crutcher. Of her feelings in the days following his death, she told the court through tears, “It’s hard because I’m having to go through all this with his family.”
But family attorneys Damario Solomon-Simmons and Melvin Hall, on cross-examination, had Johnson concede that she did not use the surname “Crutcher” on any government documents, including tax returns, rental agreements or criminal records. Johnson said she listed only her name on the rental documents for a north Tulsa home where they lived because she “always took care of the business” financially.
“When Terence had the opportunity to say himself if he was married or single, he always wrote single,” Solomon-Simmons said regarding Crutcher’s own government paperwork. “It’s unfortunate that we’re here, … but the reality is Ms. Johnson has not met the burden of clear and convincing evidence (to prove common-law marriage).”
Hardy testified that he had a “tenant-landlord” relationship with Johnson and Crutcher despite Crutcher’s not being listed as a tenant on the rental contract for their residence. He described Johnson and Crutcher as being part of “a normal household with mom and dad and kids,” as the couple had four children — including one Johnson had from a previous relationship — living there.
Smolen, in his questioning, revealed that Johnson posted a photo of her with Crutcher on Facebook in August 2015 with the caption “My husband and I” even though both identified themselves as being single. He also introduced into evidence a screenshot of a Sept. 19 post from a friend who told Johnson, “RIP to your husband” in reference to Crutcher.
Johnson testified that she and Crutcher referred to themselves as single in legal papers because they did not believe they could do otherwise without having a marriage license.
Both sides argued over the admissibility of a recording of Crutcher’s father, Joey Crutcher, made by Johnson’s friend Sellers at Smolen’s law office after Johnson was released from the Tulsa Jail on an assault complaint. Transcripts and recordings obtained by the World show that Joey Crutcher made statements at that time supporting Johnson’s assertion that she was Terence Crutcher’s common-law wife.
Solomon-Simmons alleged Tuesday that the recording constitutes an “illegal wiretap” of Joey Crutcher, while Smolen asserted that state law says only one party to a conversation has to be aware that it is being recorded.
Although Glassco has not yet decided whether to allow the recording into evidence, he said the “propriety” of how it was obtained was “very questionable” in part because “I’ve got another party surreptitiously recording when the attorney doesn’t even know about it.”
Family attorneys are expected to call four witnesses, including Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, to testify Wednesday.
Neither side so far has gone into detail about 911 recordings from Johnson’s Aug. 13 arrest that Glassco has ordered the city of Tulsa to provide to the court.