A Slaughter in Oklahoma: David Tyner Spun Elaborate Fantasies About Being a Hit Man. One Day They Came True
ILLUSTRATION BY TIM LANE
His ears were a good conversation starter. Misshapen, the cartilage calcified by years spent scraping against sweat-soaked wrestling mats, they looked alien, possibly malignant. Ask about them and he'd tell you: two-time freestyle All-American from Salina, Okla. Runner-up in the nationals. It was one of the few stories he told that had any truth to it.
"Byrd" is all anyone ever called him. Ask about David Tyner and you get a blank stare. Correct yourself and they say, "Oh, Byrd. I knew him."
Some of his friends say his mother gave him the nickname because he ate sparingly as a child. Others believe it was because he enjoyed climbing trees and nearly fell once, though birds generally don't do that.
In any case, everyone in town knew of Byrd Tyner: Oklahoma high school wrestling meets were as big as some college matches. He was happy, playful and loved being the center of attention. He was a Marine, too, though not everyone knew he once stuck an M-16 in his mouth in Iraq and was going to blow his brains out, swear to God, even though he never actually bit down on the thing until another soldier walked in.
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He was shipped back home and tried cage fighting, and that was fun until he realized his halfhearted approach to training could get him seriously hurt.
At some point, Byrd Tyner reached his ceiling. Nearing 30, working menial jobs, he and his bulbous ears began to open up to other sales pitches. Maybe the problem was being Byrd. Maybe ambling through life, blowing a scholarship and drinking with your friends wasn't going to set you up. Not with a child to support.
Maybe you needed to look at alternative sources of revenue, and, when it comes down to it, prove you're the man you say you are by stealing someone's last breath while they fight for both their life and the life of their unborn child.
Later, you could ask someone about David Tyner in Oklahoma City and get that same blank stare. Byrd doesn't register, either. So you describe him: 5-foot-9, built wide, the pride of Locust Grove High. Half Cherokee Indian. Ears like chewed-up bubblegum.
Oh. You mean Hooligan.
David Tyner had one more nickname: Stan. It stood for Shit, That Ain't Nothin', and was in tribute to Tyner's refusal to be outdone during bullshit sessions around the smoke pit at Twentynine Palms. That was where the Marines had stationed the 21-year-old in 2003 as a motor-transport operator, driving and maintaining vehicles that lent support to other soldiers.
"If someone said they had four acres, Tyner would say he had 17," says Travis Fugate, a fellow Marine. "If someone had fought two guys, he'd say he fought off four. Said he caught fish with his bare hands. That he was a gigolo. He'd lie about the stupidest shit."
Mostly, Tyner would play the one-upper game. Other times, he'd sit stone-faced and tell the men in the barracks about being a hit man for the New York and Chicago mobs. One job, he said, netted him $50,000. The client wanted the target to drop dead in front of his wife, so Tyner posted himself on the roof of a building in Milwaukee and waited for the couple to situate themselves on a patio. He shot the man dead at 300 yards. No scope.
"No scope," Fugate laughs. "He could be pretty convincing, but he'd go too far."
Tyner would have had to do some fast and spectacular networking to set himself up as a mafia contractor. After his wrestling scholarship at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga was pulled due to poor academic performance in spring 2000, he spent one listless fall semester at Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla.; the coach bounced him for a miserable work ethic. He drank, smoked dope and never set foot on the mat — a far cry from the devotion he had displayed in high school for coach Johnny Cook, who saw Tyner as a leader and a standout wrestler.
"He'd practice two or three times a day," Cook says. "Was as solid a kid as you'll find."
Back then Tyner stuck up for the bullied; a night of hellraising would be a few beers and maybe whizzing past some cops on the back roads. Fights were few and far between: Tyner was, in the vernacular of Oklahoma, a "hoss" — barrel-chested and built like a brick. He was so sold on wrestling that his family moved from Salina to the Locust Grove school district, where he stood the best chance of getting into a Division I program. Long-term, he thought he might transition into a career as a coach.
Poor grades ended all of those notions. After Bacone, Tyner kicked around, sometimes sleeping in his truck. With wrestling off the table, he seemed to lack an identity. "Maybe I'll go into the Marines as a chaplain," he told friends.
He enlisted in March 2002, shuttled to motor-transport school in Missouri before moving to Twentynine Palms. Left behind was a high school sweetheart who had borne his child; Tyner had since married a cute blonde he met back in Tennessee. The two briefly lived in off-base housing for couples. Once, Fugate recalls, military police responded to a domestic disturbance. Tyner laughed and shrugged it off. Another time, MPs chased him as he ran — drunk or high — into the Mojave Desert. He soon lost his driving privileges.
The Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 deployed to Iraq in February 2004, where it would first convoy to Kuwait before reaching Al-Taqaddum. Ground support in this sector never saw any live fire aside from mortars; they filled sandbags for the first few weeks. The food was hot and the danger minimal. The worst Tyner endured was rabies shots for spooking a coyote lurking near refuel bags.
Less than two months into deployment, Fugate heard commotion and the clompclompclomp of combat boots passing him. He figured a fight was on, since that's what Marines tend to do when boredom sets in. When he followed, he saw a small cluster of soldiers surrounding a tent. Tyner was inside, threatening to shoot himself. The others were not there for an intervention.
"Do it, pussy," someone yelled.
"Marines — it's a bunch of 18- to 24-year-old guys," Fugate says. "We weren't the best support group."
A commanding officer talked the gun out of Tyner's mouth, then put him on suicide watch. Some Marines remember him getting a troubling letter from his wife, who may have confessed infidelity. (The two soon separated.) Having put on weight since college, he also was badgered for not "taping out," or having proper body measurements for a soldier. It forced him into remedial physical training, which the once-decorated athlete despised.
Tyner was sent back to California for a psychological assessment and discharge. Superior officers would spend weeks processing a soldier's early leave by treating them like the dirt below dirt. Flunking the Marine Corps, they said, was flunking life. Enjoy flipping burgers.
The support squadron at Twentynine Palms never expected never to see him again. Instead, here came Tyner pulling up in a jeep, wearing a hard hat and orange vest.
"Livin' the dream," he said with a smile. He had gotten a construction job on the base, cruising around other units that didn't know the whole story. He was free to make up his own.
When Tyner returned to Salina in late 2004, he told high school friend Austin David that he had gotten into a physical altercation with an officer in Iraq. He also said he'd been forced to clean out a Humvee that had been blasted by Iraqis, blood and brains all over the cab. During his deployment, however, no one had been killed in Al-Taqaddum.
"He didn't look well," recalls Cindy David, Austin's mother, who frequently hosted Tyner at her family's country property, where he would bow-hunt or shoot deer from tree stands. "He had a smile you couldn't miss. But he became very serious, solemn." Once, he left a carnival when the fireworks started, unsettled by the noise.
Fugate, however, resents any discussion of post-traumatic stress. "That fucker wasn't over there long enough to see shit," he says.
Work came in spurts: bouncer, county tree service, a cement plant. Tyner tinkered with cars. He met another woman. Another baby came along, and with it a sense of urgency to provide support. Wrestling friends were getting into cage fighting, which was becoming popular thanks to reality TV series The Ultimate Fighter. He phoned Jason Nicholson, a friend in the business, and asked if he could get a match. Nicholson got him several.
Tyner trained at a few fight gyms around town but usually wound up on the mats at Locust Grove, where he had been so celebrated a few years earlier and where his Hall of Fame plaque still hung on the wall.
"The kids loved seeing him," Cook says. "Before he left, he'd always say, 'Love ya, Coach, love ya, Coach.' That was Byrd."
He fought once in late 2006 and six times in 2007, including a bout he accepted just 10 days after fighting. Even with the extra weight, Tyner was formidable: He won all of his contests in the first round. Except for an October bout, he spent more time golfing than training. After feeling the sting of a kickboxer's strikes — like having a baseball bat swung at you — he promptly quit both the fight and the sport.
In 2008, Tyner took a traveling job as a welder and pipeliner, disappearing for weeks or months at a time to Pennsylvania or Arkansas on jobs. His training partners would occasionally see him in town, hitting bags and sparring to stay fit.
Denny Phillips was someone who noticed Tyner around the gyms. A wiry 5'9" and 165 pounds, the tattoos snaking up his neck guaranteeing he'd never work an office job, Phillips — also known as Phil DZ or simply D — struck up an easy conversation with him. Both were Cherokee, both into fighting, both from Mayes County, Okla. He knew Tyner was a good cornerman, well-versed in mixed martial arts, and asked if he would help train him for a fight.
The sport, after all, had barely existed when Phillips was last in town. He had just gotten out of prison after serving 11 years for stabbing a man with a knife concealed in his belt buckle.
I-35 runs south to the Mexican border, a conveyor belt for contraband. Nearby Tulsa is the methamphetamine capital of the state, with a drug habit that made Oklahoma one of the first to ban ephedrine — a key ingredient — from being sold over the counter without a signature. It's a twilight subculture, where drugs, prostitution and gangs collide, creating a marketplace to numb a numbing existence.
Denny Phillips was aware of all of this, having smuggled drugs into prison cells and gained status in the process; he was high in the tribal hierarchy of the Indian Brotherhood, a volatile Native American prison gang that began making noise in the early 1990s. Violent and organized, they deal drugs and call shots from the inside with freed members spread across the Midwest. Opposing gangs and their families visit on alternating days to avoid any eruptions.
Phillips, in an Indian headdress with feathers encasing his neck, was responsible for recruiting efforts. In the 240-pound Tyner, he saw a walking refrigerator, an enforcer. More important, Tyner was broke and rudderless, the kind of clay Phillips could mold.
"Byrd was nomadic," Cindy David says. "He never really put roots down, moving from his father's house to his mother's. They separated when he was young. He wanted a family."
Phillips's reputation was such that his friend Jason Nicholson warned Tyner about keeping company with him, that he was dangerous, and that he should never believe the conniving Phillips was truly his friend.
"You go into prison and you come out following the same rules," Nicholson says. "But I wasn't going to dictate who his friends were."
Phillips' seduction took time. But in April 2009, Tyner abruptly quit his job as a welder. Friends with whom he'd hung out for years were put on the back burner. His girlfriend came home one day and saw several Indians in her living room; buzz cuts were being given out. It was homework for barber school, Tyner's latest pursuit; he had even dyed a stripe in his hair.
That didn't pay the bills, though, so she insisted he get a job. Tyner started work as a cook at Boomerang's. But every other waking moment was being spent with Phillips, to whom he began to refer as "brother."
In spring 2009, Phillips introduced Tyner to Casey "Diablo" Barrientos, 32, whom Denny had met while both were incarcerated. Barrientos had just been paroled in April after doing time for drug offenses and a 2001 drive-by shooting. He was affiliated with the South Side Locos, a Mexican gang. In the event that his rap sheet was unavailable, anyone who met Barrientos got the hint from the devil's horns tattooed on his forehead.
Despite his newfound freedom, Barrientos had no intention of giving up illicit activities or the twilight culture. From his home in Oklahoma City, he filtered drugs — weed, coke, meth — passed along by a Mexican cartel, dispatching Phillips and Tyner to traffic them a few hours away in Tulsa or Grand Lake, Okla.
Phillips explained to Tyner that Barrientos needed a bodyguard, that threats had been made against his life. Tyner's fantasies of being a gunslinger were coming true.
Tyner was paid for his bodyguard work and got a cut of the drug deals. He felt he was doing as much work as Phillips, but Phillips always seemed to have wads of cash too big for a money clip.
Barrientos didn't seem to be giving Tyner as many drugs to sell. Phillips, meanwhile, had made as many as 50 or 60 trips to Oklahoma City, where Barrientos had a suburban compound worthy of Scarface: stacks of money totaling $100,000 on the coffee table, men with guns, hundreds of pounds of weed and a stream of naked women.
One day in August 2009, Tyner pulled up next to Phillips in a Homeland grocery parking lot. Phillips' girlfriend, Karine Sanders, was sitting in the passenger seat. She later would testify that Tyner had complained of wanting more — more of what Phillips had. He had bills, a child to support. He was working just as hard as anyone. Barrientos was being greedy.
"Let's do something about it," Phillips said.
"Well, let's do it, then," Tyner said.
Tyner and his girlfriend separated that summer. She disliked Phillips and correctly suspected that Tyner wasn't being faithful to her. While attending a barber's course at a beauty school, Tyner had met Symantha Stanton, and the two moved into Salina's only apartment complex, a converted motel with a handful of units. It was a short drive to Tahlequah, where Phillips lived.
Tyner soon abandoned his barber plans and made regular treks to Oklahoma City, where Barrientos had set up a bedroom for him. He returned to Salina once a week to visit Stanton and his daughter. Stanton later would testify that she saw bullets and knives in their apartment.
The times she accompanied Tyner into Oklahoma City, she noticed that people there would refer to him as "Hooligan," a reference to the tattoo he'd gotten splayed across his chest. But back in Salina, Hooligan was unknown — he was still Byrd.
Sanders was present for two more conversations about Barrientos, who had recently relocated to a single-story brick house at 1511 SW 56th St. in Oklahoma City. He had taken over the lease payments from childhood friend and fellow dealer Jose Fernando Fierro, 30. While Phillips' girlfriend, Sanders, perceived Barrientos as generous, often giving his lieutenants money for gas, meals and rent, she said Tyner was adamant that he was being screwed out of money.
It would be easy. Barrientos was always on painkillers, his guard down. And he soon would let Tyner go, having been told by Phillips that he was complaining about pay. It was further incentive for Tyner and further subterfuge by Phillips: It later would be alleged that the latter owed Barrientos more than $30,000 for drugs and a dark blue Dodge Charger procured in a private sale between the two.
It was decided that Barrientos would be robbed. And murdered.
Tyner and Phillips discussed their options in Sanders' presence. Both had reason to trust her: Sanders, 20, had known Tyner since she was 4 years old. He'd often babysat her. Phillips knew Sanders' father, Perry, a fellow member of the Indian Brotherhood: The two had once escaped Mayes County Jail together.
Sanders remembered being on the rural backroads, the smell of marijuana in the air, Phillips driving his ex's white Pontiac Grand Prix. They offered her $10,000 to man the getaway car. It was the same amount they knew Barrientos kept in a safe earmarked for bail money.
"If we're going to do this, then we have to do it," Phillips said, egging Tyner on. "We can't just talk about it."
"Man, I'm real," Tyner said. "You know I'm real. You know I'll do it."
According to Sanders, Phillips would be the one to kill Barrientos. Intoxicated by the idea of a real hit, Tyner told them they could leave no witnesses behind to identify them.
By this time, Phillips had swayed Tyner with the promise of a "prospect patch," a tattoo meant to symbolize entry into the Brotherhood, which was normally open only to convicts. But if Tyner were to do something big on the outside — to help rob and murder Barrientos — Phillips would vouch for him.
Sanders was chilled. She pleaded with Tyner to walk away from the situation; he did the same, telling her to get away and pursue her dreams of being a writer.
It was Sanders who blinked. Frightened, she left town in September and never went to police with the story until what happened had happened.
Tyner reconnected with some of his old wrestling buddies that summer, taking out a boat and going fishing. They drank and joked about hellraising in the old days. He gave his friend Austin David a turquoise ring set in a bear's claw and claimed that his grandfather, a medicine man, had blessed it. He also said his grandfather had once turned into an owl, then woke up naked. He talked of moving to Norman, Okla., where David was, and being roommates.
As the night wore on, he began to share stories about an Indian mafia. David laughed it all off — Tyner and his tall tales.
"Man, I'm telling you," Tyner said. "It's real."
In late October 2009, Tyner told Stanton he was quitting his job as a bodyguard for Barrientos to go back to school. She noticed he had gotten a new tattoo on his left forearm.
Jennifer Ermey's family thought she was a waitress. Ermey, 25, seemed to be titillated by keeping her life as an exotic dancer a secret from her well-off parents, the twilight culture unknown to them.
One afternoon, Ermey returned home and saw her boyfriend kissing her roommate. Furious, she got her own apartment and began cozying up to her roommate's ex in an act of emotional revenge. He was not quite her type, with horns inked on his head and known gang affiliations. But Casey Barrientos bought Ermey nice things and had easy access to cocaine, for which she had acquired a taste.
Ermey was good friends with Milagros "Millie" Barrera, a 22-year-old Peruvian woman who enjoyed the nightlife. Barrera worked retail jobs — cellphones, apparel stores — and had gotten involved with a man who had gotten her pregnant. It didn't keep her from going out and enjoying herself, though: With her pregnancy nearly 12 weeks along, she told a friend that she was going to meet someone who let people party at his house.
In the early-morning hours of Monday, Nov. 9, 2009, Barrientos and Fierro drove to Henry Hudson's bar to meet Ermey and Barrera. They all ordered shots. At around 1:40 a.m., Fierro headed home while Barrientos left with the two women in Ermey's Honda. He told Fierro they were headed for Centerfolds, the strip club where Ermey worked.
Later, a former boyfriend of Barrera's got a phone call: She was inebriated, he said, and was "uncomfortable" around the people she was with at Centerfolds. He first let the call go to voicemail. By the time he spoke with her and drove to the club, she was gone.
Fierro also got a call. It was from a friend, Brooke Phillips (no relation to Denny Phillips), asking for cocaine. Fierro had met her in the clubs, had even employed her for private bachelor parties he arranged, but he hadn't seen her in years.
Fierro drove to a residence, where Brooke Phillips and an unidentified male were arguing. She snorted coke off a CD case in Fierro's vehicle before leaving with him, saying she'd pick up her own car in the morning.
Brooke, 22, had danced at some of the same clubs as Ermey in an effort to support her child, a daughter she'd had at 16. She would disappear for weeks at a time — sabbaticals, some of her friends later learned, to the Moonlite BunnyRanch in Mound House, Nev., a legalized brothel popularized by the HBO reality series Cathouse.
Now she was pregnant for a second time — eight weeks along. She had returned home around Halloween to have the baby.
Fierro drove her back to the Barrientos house, where he had a key and was free to come and go as he pleased. According to Fierro's later testimony, Brooke requested that he take a shower so they could have sex. She also snorted more cocaine. The two were alone for approximately 45 minutes before Fierro began to hear someone knocking and whistling at the door.
He didn't want to answer: Barrientos always told him when to expect someone. But Brooke insisted.
When he opened the door, there stood Tyner. Prosecutors later would learn that Symantha Stanton's PikePass — an electronic sensor for tolls — had been used to get off the turnpike into Oklahoma City at 3:49 a.m. Stanton had last seen Tyner in their apartment as she was falling asleep, around 11 p.m.
Fierro spent a half-hour chatting with Tyner; the two had met while helping Barrientos move over the summer and had an easy rapport. Tyner asked when Barrientos might be coming back. Fierro suspected it would be soon, since few places would still be open.
Fierro introduced Tyner to Brooke before they both went back to the bedroom, inviting Tyner to stay and wait for Barrientos.
As Fierro left the living room, he heard Tyner on his cellphone telling someone that the only people in the house were Fierro and his girlfriend. A few drinks in, he thought little of it.
Fierro and Brooke were in the bedroom when Barrientos arrived a short time later. Fierro heard female voices, which he assumed to be those of Ermey and Barrera. Brooke went out to greet them; Fierro stayed behind. He heard music and amiable chatting.
Thirty minutes passed. Then Barrientos' tone turned serious: "Aw, what the fuck?" Before Fierro could react, gunshots rang out and a bullet zipped through the bedroom door.
Fierro looked around. The damaged door led to the living room and mayhem. The other door led to the kitchen. Fierro picked the latter.
Shoeless and shirtless, he sprinted through the kitchen and into the garage, hitting the button to open it and diving underneath. Running, he turned to see Tyner giving chase, a white Pontiac Grand Prix parked in the driveway.
"Fern Dog, come back," Tyner yelled. "I'm not going to fuck with you."
Fierro may have been a dealer of ill repute who once met with Mexican cartel members while his children played in the backyard and who was barely two hours removed from selling cocaine to a pregnant woman, but he was not stupid. He continued to run until he smashed into a horse kept in a neighbor's yard. Dazed, he climbed up a tree, where he waited for a thought to come into his head as to what to do next.
Barrientos had been the primary target: big, fearless and known to be armed. He took four shots to the torso and one to the head. The pregnant Millie Barrera most likely was the second kill; as with Barrientos, shots to the back indicated she had been trying to flee. Clean and easy.
At this point, it's possible that Tyner heard the garage door open and went to chase Fierro. But Brooke Phillips and Jennifer Ermey remained, and after realizing their likely fate, the cocaine in their systems provoked a different answer in the fight-or-flight question.
They fought. Fiercely.
Ermey was bruised and battered, hit with fists or feet that fractured her femur and broke her rib. Both were shot in the hand as they tried to shield themselves from bullets. At this point, the killer or killers may have run out of ammo — or Tyner, the one with the firearm, ran out to chase Fierro. In either case, both women sustained stab wounds: Brooke's larynx was slashed and her abdomen stabbed. When the shooting resumed, Brooke's bullet wounds indicated a struggle, the shots not grouped together but spread out as the target squirmed. Both then were shot in the head.
The massacre probably took less than three minutes total. Bodies were splayed out on virtually every side of the room: four adults, two fetuses. Petroleum was splashed around and a match was lit.
Stanton's PikePass was used again on the turnpike at 5:30 a.m. and at the exit toward Salina at 7:30 a.m. Denny Phillips' Grand Prix was captured that morning on a nearby business surveillance video but was never seen again. At 5:37, the fire department responded to a neighbor's phone call reporting a blaze at 1511 SW 56th St.
The findings of the medical examiner later indicated that attackers had left behind one survivor, at least briefly: Ermey, who did not suffer a fatal gunshot wound but instead died of smoke inhalation.
The gas company employee who arrived at the scene told a police officer he believed the house belonged to Jose Fierro, a former worker for the company who was recently fired for failing a drug test. The initial suspicion was that Fierro was one of the four charred bodies found in the home.
Blocks away, Fierro was at his grandmother's house phoning a lawyer. He didn't speak with police for two days. When he did, he told them about a man he knew only as Hooligan.
Symantha Stanton awoke that morning to find Tyner gone, but she didn't consider it unusual: He normally worked out early. She saw him around noon that day and for most of the next week. He was acting normally. Neither he nor her car smelled of petroleum. Nothing incriminating was present.
At the crime scene, police established that Barrientos was wearing $10,000 worth of jewelry the night he was murdered. It was now missing. And in a house typically stuffed with thousands of dollars, only $221 remained.
Tyner made several phone calls that week. Speaking with Perry Sanders, Karine's father, he said he would be seeing the incarcerated man "very soon." He also talked to Jason Nicholson, who had U.S. marshals at his door looking for Tyner, the man they now knew to be Hooligan.
At first, Tyner played dumb, asking Nicholson what they wanted.
"You can't run from the law," Nicholson told him. "Waste of time, waste of energy."
On Nov. 17, Tyner walked into the Pryor police station, 10 miles from Salina. "I'm David Tyner," he announced. "I hear you guys are looking for me." He refused to speak to detectives. Nicholson tried to get some money together for a lawyer.
"Don't you stress about that," Tyner told him. "I got this public defender."
On Nov. 24, coordinated attacks broke out across three Oklahoma prisons, with Mexican inmates attacking members of the Indian Brotherhood: blood for Barrientos' blood. Six were hospitalized.
Days later, two American Indians took a hatchet to two Hispanic gang members, wounding both. The prisons were in lockdown for months.
Denny Phillips was described as a "person of interest" in the case, but evidence was scant. He remained below the radar until January 2010, when he was arrested for possessing a weapon as a convicted felon. He had the audacity to rob the home of Tulsa homicide detective Mike Huff, stealing a police uniform, guns, family heirlooms and even Huff's Chevrolet pickup. Police feared he was desperate and organized a task force to hunt him down.
With Tyner incarcerated, Symantha Stanton began dating Denny Phillips. She was pregnant with his child when both were cornered in a Tulsa Motel 6 in April 2010. Phillips brandished a gun he had stolen from Huff and hopped around in a fighting stance; police opened fire, careful not to shoot into the windows behind Phillips that might have obscured guests. He suffered bullet wounds to his torso and crotch; his testicles were unsalvageable and his penis partially severed. He also lost a toe in the melee.
Phillips was sentenced to seven years for the Huff burglary and assorted weapons charges: Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater built his case glacially but finally indicted Phillips in August 2012 for the six murders and on one count of conspiracy. He's currently awaiting trial; witnesses have paraded through the court room during preliminary hearings to detail how proud he seemed of the crime.
Prosecutors allege that he plotted the murders but have not ascertained whether he was in the house or simply nearby; inmate Michael Mease testified that Phillips, locked up after the Tulsa shootout, told him of the murders and that Brooke Phillips "just wouldn't die." (Prater, Tyner's defense attorneys and Oklahoma City Police Department detectives did not respond to requests for comment; Denny Phillips has pleaded not guilty.)
In May 2012, after several years' worth of hearings and testimony from Fierro, Sanders and Stanton, Tyner pleaded guilty to six counts of murder: four adults and two fetuses. If he had gone to trial, he would have faced the death penalty. The plea afforded him life in prison with no option to appeal.
"He was a competitive wrestler," Cindy David says. "It's hard to believe he'd lie down and not fight."
Tyner received his sentence as members of the victims' families looked on, chastising him in written statements. The man who once never shut up would not say a word.
Tyner has not responded to requests for interviews, nor has he provided any testimony regarding Denny Phillips, likely out of fear that the Indian Brotherhood will retaliate against his family. When he was arrested, his attorneys told the mother of his youngest child to leave town immediately. She didn't return for months.
Before he was sentenced, Tyner was visited in jail by Justin Wren, a mixed martial artist turned prison minister who was addressing inmates about his own tumultuous past with drugs. An official took him to see Tyner, who, according to Wren, was surrounded by four to six guards and "looked like Hannibal Lecter without the mask." Chains and buckles tethered him to his bed. A previous visit had not gone well, a guard said, and Tyner had threatened violence.
He and Wren talked for hours: Tyner remembered they were supposed to fight once. He told Wren he wanted to pursue fighting as a career but had instead made "an awful choice." Now, he said, he just paces, reads and writes, in isolation for 23 hours a day.
Wren noticed a stack of journals two or three feet high in his cell. "Dreams and prayers," Tyner said. A well-worn Bible was nearby. His hands chained, he wiped tears from his face with his knee.
It was like this, he claimed. His girlfriend was pregnant, on drugs. He walked in on her with another man and just snapped. It was one last tall tale for Byrd, who finally fell out of the tree.
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