State awaits permission to exhume body of inmate

Tuesday, December 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The body of a prison inmate who hanged himself and was buried under another inmate's identity could be exhumed as early as next week.

The inmate who committed suicide in the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center and was buried Monday in a cemetery in Gore is believed to be Steven L. Howe, the state Corrections Department said.

Sequoyah County District Attorney Richard Gray said that if Howe's family agrees, an exhumation order can be presented to a judge on Monday.

The body was initially identified as that of Kevin Wyckoff, another inmate at Lexington, and the mistake was not discovered until Wyckoff telephoned his parents at their home in Sallisaw after they returned from the funeral.

The Corrections Department provided a tape of that telephone call to The Associated Press.

``Hey, Dad,'' Wyckoff said when his father, Charles Wyckoff, answered the phone.

``Huh. Well damn boy. We just had your funeral today,'' Charles Wyckoff replied.

A moment later, the father said:

``Well, what the hell is going on?''

Wyckoff also spoke to his mother. Authorities did not have her name and the Wyckoff's telephone went unanswered Wednesday.

``Hey mama,'' Wyckoff said.

``Kevin, I cannot believe this,'' she said.

``Wait, it's not my fault,'' Wyckoff replied.

``We buried you today boy,'' she said.

The body must be exhumed so that the state Medical Examiner's Office can officially confirm the identification and give the body to Howe's family, Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said.

Corrections officials have spoken with the families of Wyckoff, 23, and Howe, 34. The two men bore a resemblance and nobody at the funeral realized the mistake.

``I think they were just questioning how something like this could happen,'' Massie said. ``The conversations weren't particularly unpleasant, but they wanted to know how this could happen.''

Massie said Wyckoff and Howe had switched prison cells. Investigators were trying to determine whether they did so without permission or if staff made the switch without filing a report.

Kevin Wyckoff said in the telephone call to his parents that prison staff members were to blame.

The Wyckoff family will not receive any immediate reimbursement for the funeral expense.

``Our intent is to do the right thing, but the process may be cumbersome for the family,'' Massie said. ``They may have to file a tort claim. We can't just write them a check.''