First she was locked up for tangling with her neighbor. Then she found out her husband had been shot with his hands up. Now shes in a legal battle with his family.”>
The day Terence Crutcher died, his widow was stuck in jail.
Frenchel Johnson, Crutchers common-law wife of 16 years and the mother of his three children, was incarcerated on an assault charge Sept. 16. That evening, Officer Betty Shelby fatally shot Crutcher as he stood outside his vehicle with his hands upa shocking incident captured on police helicopter footage, instantly grabbing the nations attention.
Johnson found out about his death on a lockup television.
The nightly news reported a 40-year-old shooting victim off 36th Street near Lewis Avenue: the route Crutcher took home.
I got up from looking at the TV. He didnt answer the phone. I just couldnt believe it, Johnson told The Daily Beast in a phone interview Tuesday. It was the worst feeling anybody could go through. I felt helpless.
She watched her in-laws speak about her husband on national TV without saying he had a wife at all. They never mentioned me one time, Johnson said through tears. They acted like I wasnt in my kids life.
According to the widow, Crutchers father assured her hed get her out of jail but never came through. A friend of hers even tried selling her car for bail money just so Johnson could be with her children after Crutchers death.
I was believing him [but] it was all a lie, she said. They were leaving me in there so they could take care of all this business.
Indeed, Crutchers kin and their lawyers kept Johnson a secret from the outside world, audio recordings obtained by The Daily Beast reveal.
We didnt want nobody to know she was in jail and all of that, the Rev. Joey Crutcher, Terences father, said, calling her incarceration an embarrassing situation for the kids.
While Crutchers sister delivered soundbytes for TV cameras, praising the 40-year-old as a father, she never mentioned he had a wife.
Now court papers reveal a rift between Crutchers parents and Johnson. The in-laws are seeking control of Crutchers estate and the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Tulsa authorities.
Not only did she lose her husband, but now her family has essentially turned against her and rejected her as the daughter-in-law, all because of the way probate [court] works in Oklahoma, Johnsons attorney, Daniel Smolen, told The Daily Beast.
Johnson was appointed the administrator of Crutchers estate Friday. The same day, Crutchers father allegedly requested a meeting with Smolen and Johnson, and explained why the Crutchers failed to bail Johnson out.
We were trying to keep her dignity intact, Crutchers dad said in a recorded conversation released by Smolen.
The Crutchers decided to leave Johnson in jail after speaking with their attorneys on the matter, Joey Crutcher says in an audio clip. (Johnson, who was arrested in mid-August, is facing charges including assault with a dangerous weapon, records show.)
Later, Joey Crutcher tells Smolen that people asked about Johnson after seeing her picture but says he declined to discuss her.
I was trying to protect her because I didnt want them kids to be embarrassed by their mother being locked up, and I didnt want Frenchel to be embarrassed, Crutcher says in the recording.
Crutcher then says his attorneysFlorida-based Benjamin Crump, who rose to fame after representing Trayvon Martins parents, and Damario Solomon-Simmons of Tulsaknew about Johnsons incarceration.
They may not have known, however, that Oklahoma is one of few states with common-law marriage. That means Johnson has a claim to Terence Crutchers estatewhich could be worth a substantial amount of money, if planned lawsuits against the city of Tulsa for Crutchers wrongful death are ultimately successful.
Smolen said he received an anonymous call last week from someone claiming to be a relative of Johnson. The caller claimed Terence Crutcher had a wife and that Crutchers family wouldnt bail her out of jail.
I thought it was odd that the wife had not been mentioned by Mr. Crutchers family, Smolen told The Daily Beast. They would say hes a father, hes an uncle, hes a dad, but they never said he was a husband.
Smolen soon visited Johnson, who obtained a loan to secure her bond from Tulsa County jail. She was released Thursday, court records show.
Joey Crutcher arranged a meeting with Johnson, two of her friends, and Smolen the next day, Smolen said.
In a recording of their visit, Crutcher says he tried to put Johnson on Terences death certificate. He claims he talked with his attorneys about making sure that the kids and Frenchel get an estate set up.
The reverend also suggests the charges against Johnson are bogus, saying she shouldnt have been in there [jail] one day.
We couldnt afford an attorney. Me and my son was trying to really get good representation, Joey Crutcher adds. Thats what we want more than anything.
Crutcher says his grandchildren are a basket case and crying for Johnson after their fathers death. Well get her out, well get her out, Joey Crutcher claims to have promised the kids.
Crutcher says he and his wife are old and we dont want to be raising nobodys kids, according to the recording.
They need their mother, he concludes in the recording.
And yet on Monday, Joey Crutcher and his wife, Leanna, began waging a legal battle against Johnson. The Crutchers filed a motion demanding a judge vacate Johnsons appointment as the estates administrator. A judge is scheduled to hear their arguments on Friday, Sept. 30.
Meanwhile, the Crutchers attorneys revised their GoFundMe pagewhich raised $165,928to say checks helping Terence Crutchers children should be addressed to his sister, Tiffany. The site previously said donations must be made out to The Estate of Terence Crutcher.
(Crump and his fellow attorneys did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails left by The Daily Beast.)
According to the Crutchers filing, Johnson failed to disclose that she is a convicted felon. Terence Crutchers parents have legal custody of her three children, the filing states.
The document also says Johnson is disqualified, ineligible, and incompetent, and lacks standing to be the special administrator of Crutchers estate.
Terence Crutcher was not married to Ms. Frenchel Johnson, and Ms. Johnson is not his widow. There was neither a ceremonial nor a common law marriage, and no marriage license, the filing continues.
Its a strange claim, considering Joey Crutcher calls Johnson his daughter-in-law in one of the audio recordings reviewed by The Daily Beast.
In the court papers, the Crutchers claim theyve had physical custody of the couples childrenages 4, 11, and 15for most of their lives. They also claim to have custody of Johnsons 17-year-old son, who was raised by Terence Crutcher.
Joey Crutcher was appointed temporary emergency guardian on Sept. 19 with the consent of Ms. Johnson, court papers state.
According the filing, the family believes a wrongful death suit on behalf of Terence Crutchers estate will be undermined and unduly complicated if filed by Johnson.
Rev. and Mrs. Crutcher care about Ms. Johnson and encourage her to spend time freely with her children and the Crutcher family, the filing concludes, before claiming the mother is disqualified from serving as estate administrator.
In a Sept. 19 petition for guardianship, Joey Crutcher states that his grandchildren have lived with him off and on for three years because of an unstable environment at home.
Frenchel drinks heavly [sic] and the children should not be exsposed [sic] to the fighting and fussing that comes with that life, Crutcher said in the petition. A guardianship hearing is scheduled for Oct. 10.
Smolen and Johnson denied that allegation, saying Johnson was the primary caretaker for her kids until her arrest in August.
Johnson began drinking after her mother was murdered and the killer was never found, Smolen told The Daily Beast.
She was very depressed and self-medicating with alcohol, Smolen said. She was recently able to complete the drug court DUI program [completing] years of sobriety and alcohol monitoring.
In August 2007, Johnson was convicted of driving under the influence, a second offense, and sentenced to three years behind bars, court papers show.
Her next brush with the law came last month, when Tulsa cops arrested and charged her with assault with a dangerous weapon after she threatened to stab her neighbor Toshiba Sabe Brown with a kitchen knife, prosecutors say.
Johnsons criminal defense attorney, Thomas Mortensen, told The Daily Beast that Johnson was charged with stabbing someone, but the police affidavit makes no mention of a stabbing or injury taking place.
Shes charged with stabbing somebody with a knife, and that didnt happen, Mortensen said of the charge.
For her part, Brown told The Daily Beast that Johnson didnt stab her but attempted to do so. She said Johnson was a neighbor to her sister and the two often fought. It was just [a] typical neighbor feud, but that incident that led to Frenchels arrest was the first time it escalated that far, Brown said in an email.
My sister, Frenchel, and Terence has been feuding for years but it has never turned violent, Brown said.
According to an affidavit, officers responding to a verbal argument between Johnson and Brown ordered Johnson to drop a kitchen knife. They shot Johnson with a Taser when she allegedly disobeyed cops commands, the affidavit states.
Court records show Brown filed for a protective order against Terence Crutcher on Aug. 15. It was denied the same day for insufficient evidence.
As Johnson fights her criminal charges, shes also preparing to battle her in-laws in court. Its unexpected for the woman who spent Sundays barbecuing and going to church with the Crutchers.
Johnson said she met Crutcher when she was 22 and that they had been best friends ever since.
I always loved Terence, Johnson added. I just couldnt understand why they [the Crutcher family] want to turn their backs on me.