Oklahoma attorney general asks Trump to pardon US soldier

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's attorney general is renewing his request that President Trump pardon for a former U.S. solider from Oklahoma convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner.

Attorney General Mike Hunter supports a pardon for former Army Lt. Michael Behenna, first requesting one in February 2018.

Behenna was convicted in 2009 of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing a suspected al-Qaida terrorist. He was paroled in 2014 and remains on parole until 2024.

In letters dated Monday to Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Hunter says Department of Justice regulations that prohibit anyone on parole from applying for a pardon "unduly restrict" the president's constitutional power to grant pardons.

Hunter has said he believes Behenna's conviction was unjustified because of erroneous jury instructions and the failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence supporting a self-defense claim.

•••

Oklahoma governor vetoes first bill, signs dozens more

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has vetoed his first bill, rejecting a proposal sent to him by fellow Republicans to create a new 14-member panel meant to study home-based services.

Stitt late Tuesday issued a veto message for the bill to create the Oklahoma Home- and Community-Based Services Ombudsman Task Force. The bill directed the group to study the issue, compile data and make recommendations to the governor and Legislature.

Stitt says he supports the concept of helping recipients of this kind of care but wants to address it through "more direct and effective means."

The bill was sponsored by fellow Republicans Rep. Carol Bush of Tulsa and Greg McCortney of Ada.

Stitt already has signed 77 bills into law so far during his first legislative session .

•••

Report: Oklahoma population's declined in recent years

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — More people have moved out of Oklahoma in recent years than have moved in from other states, an indication of better job prospects in other parts of the country.

The troubling shift has been noted especially among people of prime working age and with college educations, according to Chad Wilkerson, an economist and vice president at the Oklahoma City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. Wilkerson and research assistant Courtney Shupert reported on the trend in the latest issue of Oklahoma Economist. They found that declines were most notable in rural parts of the state, especially in western Oklahoma.

The state's metro areas continue to grow in population because of international immigration and higher birth versus death rates, the researchers found. But the metro growth rate since 2016 has declined to its lowest level since 1990, they added.

"We focus on identifying the who and where of this outflow of people in recent years, with the who being prime-aged workers and college graduates and the where being mostly western Oklahoma and indeed all areas outside of the Oklahoma City metro, although even OKC had as many people move out as move in during 2017, for the first time in a long time," Wilkerson told The Journal Record in an email.

According to Eric Long, a research economist at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the Oklahoma City area has averaged a 1.5% annual growth rate since 2005, though the rate dipped to 0.8% in 2016 and 2017. Growth is anticipated to rebound to 1.4% in 2019. The multicounty OKC metro area has added nearly 250,000 people since 2005, he said.

According to a Tulsa Regional Chamber report, that city's multicounty metro area has added about 131,000 people since 2000.

As a whole, the trend in Oklahoma since 2016 has been a reversal of what was experienced from 2005 to 2015, when the state attracted more new U.S. residents each year than it lost. Wilkerson and Shupert reported that in the last three years even in metro areas people 25 to 34 have been more likely to move out than to move in. They attributed that to fewer jobs connected to the oil and gas industry.

As the state's economy improves, it will likely begin to attract more new residents again from other states, but the Oklahoma Economist article's authors project that growth will continue to lag in rural areas.

"Residents of some geographic areas and in some education categories have had longer-term out-migration trends," they report. "In particular, much of western Oklahoma has seen population losses since 1990, (and) even prior to the state's economic recession in 2015-16, Oklahoma already was losing more college graduates than it was gaining."

Retaining and attracting younger people and college graduates should be a primary goal of local leaders and state policymakers, Wilkerson said.

In Lawton, Brenda Spencer-Ragland, president of the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce, said local leaders recognize the difficult challenges but feel that quality of life and other factors, like good schools and health care, play in the city's favor.

"Quality of life is an important element of retention of our residents," she said. "(And) we stand firm in our commitment to grow opportunities for our residents, with a specific focus on high-tech jobs."

•••

Former federal prosecutor to lead state's Boren case

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A grand jury will assist state investigators looking into allegations of sexual misconduct by former University of Oklahoma President David Boren, the Oklahoma attorney general's office confirmed on Wednesday.

The office said former U.S. Attorney Pat Ryan, who prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing case, was appointed special counsel to its multicounty grand jury unit. Attorney General Mike Hunter stepped back from the investigation so his office could continue to represent the university in other matters, according to his spokesman.

"The attorney general took appropriate action by recusing himself and numerous senior members of his staff from involvement in this case to avoid any conflict of interest," Hunter spokesman Alex Gerszewski said in a statement.

Hunter also worked for many years as a top attorney with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who is now a member of the university's Board of Regents.

The Oklahoman newspaper first reported Ryan's appointment.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations that Boren and another former university administrator, Tripp Hall, sexually harassed male students. Both have denied wrongdoing.

The OSBI launched its investigation after former student Jess Eddy came forward to say Boren made unwanted sexual advances and touched him inappropriately on several occasions when he worked as a teaching aide for the former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator a decade ago. He claims Hall also touched him inappropriately during a trip to Houston in 2010.

The allegations by Eddy, now 29, which he detailed in interviews with The Associated Press, contradict previous statements Eddy gave to investigators and to Boren's attorney denying inappropriate behavior by Boren. Eddy said he was untruthful earlier to protect Boren but then "started realizing the implications of what I was doing by concealing my truth."

Boren's attorney, Clark Brewster, has dismissed Eddy's new account and maintains Boren never acted inappropriately with students or staff. Brewster did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday on the multicounty grand jury investigation.

The university also hired an outside law firm, Jones Day, to conduct a separate investigation into the allegations against Boren. Attorneys for the firm spent about six hours last week briefing regents on the results of its investigation during a closed-door meeting.

The multicounty grand jury is an investigative body that law enforcement or prosecutors can use to subpoena records and compel the testimony of witnesses under oath, especially in cases that may involve multiple jurisdictions. A grand jury investigation can lead to criminal charges.