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Oklahoma Memories

Stafford Gets Death

2010-11-06

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"Roger fired first, and they see him shoot the black man, and they see him shoot the manager, and they seen Howard pointing his gun into the freezer..."

That's the voice of Verna Stafford describing what happened the night of July 16, 1978, at the Sirloin Stockade restaurant in south Oklahoma City.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

The evening of July 16, 1978, two men and a woman entered the Sirloin Stockade on SW 74th and Penn on the south side of Oklahoma City. Minutes later they left with $1,300 and left behind two adults and four teenagers, employees at the restaurant, shot to death, their bodies in a walk-in meat locker. It was the most gruesome mass murder at that time in the history of Oklahoma. The manhunt for the killers began almost immediately. Detectives initially connected the steak house murders to the murders of a three-member family two weeks earlier along I-35 near Purcell. The manhunt continued for almost a year. Ironically Roger Dale Stafford called the OSBI in January 1979, six months after the steakhouse murders. Stafford and his wife Verna were staying at an Oklahoma City motel when they saw on television composite drawings of the two men and woman who were wanted in connection with the crime. On July 13, Stafford and Verna were arrested outside a Chicago YMCA. Ten months after the murders, his brother Harold, who was the second man being sought, was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Finally in October 1979, Roger Dale Stafford's murder trial began. His wife Verna provided some of the key testimony.

"Roger fired first, and they see him shoot the black man, and they see him shoot the manager, and they seen Howard pointing his gun into the freezer, back towards the back, and they couldn't watch it no more, and they turned around and walked away."

Roger testified that he was in Tulsa and was drunk the night of the murders. The trial lasted seven days. The jury deliberated for less than an hour. District Judge Charles Owens read the first of six verdicts returned by the jury.

"We, the jury, empaneled and sworn in the above and titled cause, do upon oath find the defendant, Roger Dale Stafford, guilty of the crime of murder in the first degree as to count one of the information concerning the death of Terry Horst. Having heretofore found the defendant Roger Dale Stafford guilty of murder in the first degree as to count one of the information concerning the death of Terry Horst fix his punishment as to this count at death."

Oklahoma County District Attorney Andy Coats said that he had no doubt the jury would find Roger Dale Stafford guilty.

In August 1989, Verna Stafford sought a new sentence, but District Judge Richard Freeman gave her two consecutive life sentences. He told her "I would wager there's one of the hottest corners of hell vacant with your name right above it..."

Roger Dale Stafford spent almost 16 years on death row at the state pen in McAlester, and then finally July 1, 1995, he was sent to the execution chamber for the six Sirloin Stockade murders and the murders of the three members of the Lorenz family.

The Roger Dale Stafford trial was the first trial receiving extensive broadcast coverage since electronic media hardware were permitted in the courtroom earlier that year in 1979.

You can learn more about crime and punishment in Oklahoma by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated by collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.