Former Sheriff Convicted On Sex Charges

Saturday, January 17th 2009, 5:08 pm
By: News On 6

Associated Press

FAIRVIEW, OK -- A Major County jury on Saturday convicted former Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess on multiple counts of sexually abusing inmates and defendants in a county drug court program.

After deliberating for more than 8 hours Friday and Saturday, the jury convicted Burgess on 13 felony counts, including five counts of second-degree rape. The jury recommended Burgess serve a total of 94 years in prison.

The 56-year-old former lawman was accused of using his power over female inmates and drug court defendants to force them into having sex with him.

Prosecutors alleged Burgess' position as a member of a team controlling a drug court in Custer County put him in the position to sexually coerce defendants.

Burgess's attorney had maintained the accusers were either lying or that the sex between him and the women was consensual.

Besides five counts of second-degree rape, Burgess was convicted of three counts of bribery by a public official; two counts of forcible sodomy; and one count each of kidnapping, sexual battery and engaging in a pattern of criminal offenses.

Formal sentencing is scheduled for March 24 in Major County.

Burgess pleaded not guilty to 36 separate felony counts against him.

During closing arguments on Friday, prosecutor Jim Swartz urged the jury to send Burgess to prison.

"If you're going to act like an animal, you're going to be caged like an animal" Swartz said.

Under state law, an inmate cannot legally consent to sexual relations with a jailer or anyone else who controls the conditions of the prisoner's confinement.

Several female offenders testified during the trial that they feared they would be sent to prison if they did not provide sexual favors to Burgess. One woman testified she and Burgess had sex two to three times a week over a 14-month period.

Defense lawyer Steve Huddleston contended that drug court defendants were controlled by a judge, not Burgess, and said the women were hoping a verdict against Burgess in criminal court would translate to a payday for them in a civil case.

The evidence against Burgess first surfaced in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 12 former jail inmates alleging sheriff's employees had them engage in wet T-shirt contests and offered cigarettes to those who would flash their breasts.

The trial was moved to Major County from Custer County because of intense media coverage. Fairview is 73 miles from the Custer County seat of Arapaho and 120 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.