Nellie Perry practiced law in Hobart, Oklahoma and specialized in farm bankruptcies during the farm crises of the 1980's. After working as a writer, she received her JD from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1983 at the age of 53. She served on the Bar of Trustees of the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Board of Bar Examiners. She received the Mary Emma Wilson Award for outstanding work in prevention of child abuse in Oklahoma for her work with Great Plains Youth and Family Services Incorporated and the Youth Commission in Hobart. She is also the recipient of the Journal Record's Fifty Women Making a Difference award.
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Below is a short selection of the interview with Nellie Perry. You can listen to the full interview by visiting the Chickasaw Nation Law Library at Oklahoma City University School of Law
Below is an excerpt from Ms. Perry's interview and a link to download the full transcript.
NP: Let’s talk about my most difficult case period.
KEK: Okay, let’s talk about your most difficult case period.
NP: Which was a very unusual case. July the fourth or fifth 1984, a child’s body was found in Foss, Oklahoma. A nine-year old girl and she had been raped and murdered brutally with a knife. Slashed. And, the defendant was her ex-stepfather; her mother had married him in the north and then brought him to Burnes Flat, Oklahoma to work in the oil field. And he was charged with the crime and then it was determined that the little girl’s body was actually found not in Custer County but in Washita County. So, the case was transferred. The defendant was transferred to Washita County in Cordell. We practiced in both counties; we had offices in Sentinel and Hobart. Sentinel is in Washita County, therefore I practiced in the court in Cordell. And Judge Edwards appointed my husband Johnny to defend the defendant in the murder case. But, he said, “Don’t worry, Johnny, I’m going to give you co-counsel,” and he appointed me with my husband. And Johnny had tried cases, Johnny had been out of law school for twenty years, I had been out of law school for twenty-two months when we were appointed to this major case as a pair. And I did the leg work because Johnny had to keep the Hobart office going, at that time we were just a four man firm. And the cases, the regular cases, had to be done and Johnny did those and I did most of the work on the murder case. I spent every afternoon, every weekday afternoon, in the Cordell jail sitting with the defendant, taking his story all of that, most all of that summer of eighty-four because I remember vividly our household budget was pretty thin and collect calls from the Cordell jail were a dollar a minute and if I didn’t go to see him every day he would call me collect. So, I went every day. And the case was tried in June of 1985 and he was found guilty and sentenced to death. But on the way there, we had a very difficult case because the district attorney, Steve Suttle, he lived in Altus, but was the district attorney for Washita County as well. We lived in Kiowa County and Washita County is the adjoining county. He was the DA for four counties out there. But he treated Johnny and me as if we had killed the little girl ourselves. We were doing a job that Johnny said he could not, could not reject it because he believed it was our duty to defend; the worse the crime the more necessary it is to defend because he would always say we are defending our system of justice. Not this man, but the system of justice. And so, we had several interesting things happen, Mr. Suttle and I crossed swords so much. One day he came into the Kiowa County Courtroom, we were having motion day, lawyers were there from all over the state, and he looked across the courtroom and saw me and interrupted court by saying in a loud voice, “Mrs. Perry, do not ever come to my office again, communicate with me only in writing, is that clear?” I had been coming to his office daily to get some photographs that he had been ordered by the court to turn over to me and I wasn’t getting them so I kept coming. He said, “I will not have you intimidating my staff, is that clear?” So, in the silence that fell over that courtroom, because everything came to a halt, the lawyers were quiet, I said, “Steven, I’ve asked you not to speak like that to me in public, people will say we’re in love.” And, I had a lot of fun out of that later on because my partner, Bill Gentry, came running down our hall, kissed me on the cheek and said, “Partner, Steve Suttle doesn’t love you, but every other lawyer in that courtroom does.”