Hogue Trial

Rebecca Hogue leaves the courtroom during a break in her trial Wednesday at the Cleveland County courthouse.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed this week that Rebecca Hogue did not murder her son.

Still, Hogue is being charged with first-degree murder in the New Year’s Day 2020 death of her son, Jeremiah “Ryder” Johnson. Johnson died in the care of Hogue’s then-boyfriend, Christopher Trent, who died by suicide a few days after Johnson’s death.

The state is charging Hogue under the “Failure to Protect” law, claiming Hogue knew her boyfriend was abusing her son and didn’t stop the abuse in time to save Johnson’s life. Hogue maintains she never knew Trent was hurting her son.

But because Trent is dead, Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn has placed the full legal weight of the blame for Johnson’s death on Hogue. After watching Hogue’s case be dragged out for more than a year, we believe the charges and prosecution against Hogue are being aimed at the wrong person.

Oklahoma’s “Failure to Protect” law spells out consequences not just for people who engage in child abuse, but for those who “enable” child abuse — those who allow abuse to happen, fail to protect children from known abuse or leave a child with an individual they know or reasonably know may pose a risk of abuse can face the same punishments as abusers.

While Hogue’s trial will continue into this week, so far, both Hogue (via her legal representation) and her mother, Diane Hogue, maintain they did not know or suspect Trent was abusing Johnson.

When Hogue noticed Johnson had some injuries in 2019, Trent denied hurting him — he provided explanations for why Johnson was hurt, Hogue’s attorneys say. Diane Hogue said Thursday that after she once saw Trent swat Johnson’s hand after Johnson broke some eggs, Rebecca Hogue firmly told her boyfriend that he was never allowed to physically discipline her son.

The day Johnson died, Hogue worked a late shift, arriving home at around 4 a.m. after leaving Johnson in Trent’s care. She says she checked on her son when she got home and saw him breathing. She says she checked on him again after she got some sleep and found him dead. She called 911.

Hypothetically, Failure to Protect could be used to create and enforce accountability. But Hogue’s case seems to show that the law, in Cleveland County, is being used arbitrarily.

A Transcript investigation last year found that Hogue is the first person in five years to be charged under “Failure to Protect” in Cleveland County. In those five years, two other cases came through the county in which Mashburn could have prosecuted a mother under the statute. He didn’t.

The Transcript’s investigation also brought to light a recording of Norman Police detectives that showed police investigators were uncomfortable charging Hogue with first-degree murder instead of enabling. But according to the recording, the DA’s office didn’t want to accept an enabling charge — they wanted to go for murder.

The desire to punish and combat child abuse is important — we can all agree it’s a priority to protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us. But when the person who should be held responsible for abuse is no longer here, it’s not right to turn our instinct for accountability and justice toward someone who not only says she didn’t know her son was being abused, but who lost her son completely.

Hogue has already lived nearly two years without her child. The person who could and should be held accountable for his murder is dead.

Prosecuting Hogue so harshly for the crime both parties can agree her boyfriend committed is not justice for her son. Cleveland County is abusing the “Failure to Protect” law by punishing the one person still living after an unimaginable trauma.

The Norman Transcript Editorial Board includes Publisher Mark Millsap, Editor Emma Keith and News Editor Max Bryan. For comments or questions, email editor@normantranscript.com.

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