A Comanche County jury on Saturday found a Cache woman not guilty of killing her husband.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about 3½ hours before returning the verdict. They listened to more than four hours of closing arguments in Comanche County Chief District Judge Scott D. Meaders’ courtroom before deciding the fate of Loretta Van Buren, 63, who was accused of killing her husband, Terry Van Buren, in 2019 and staging it to look like a suicide. Loretta Van Buren was charged with first-degree murder.
“This case is really simple, it was either a suicide or it was murder,” District Attorney Kyle Cabelka said in his closing arguments.
Terry Van Buren. 58, was found dead in his bed around 5 p.m. Sept. 2, 2019, by his wife of 25 years. Loretta Van Buren testified she’d come home from running errands to find him in the dark room. She said she lifted his arm and saw his .40 caliber Walther handgun lying by his head. She picked it up but said she dropped it when she saw the blood. She said she opened the blinds and was haunted by light illuminating her late spouse.
However, Loretta Van Buren told the 911 dispatcher, arriving Cache Police Officer David Castro, and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) Agent Michael Francis that she didn’t touch her husband’s body or the gun. After being told evidence of blood from the gun had touched the sheets elsewhere, she said she had touched the gun.
During his lengthy run at punching the prosecution’s case, Loretta Van Buren’s defense counsel John Zelbst returned to his giant A-framed flip book where he’d written notes of perceived flaws investigators made in their case. He reminded the jury Loretta Van Buren was still in a case of shock following the discovery of her husband.
Zelbst continued to punch holes in the prosecution’s case by pointing out errors in the investigation. They didn’t test for gunpowder residue on either Terry or Loretta Van Buren’s hands and clothes. With issues regarding Terry Van Buren’s many health, mental health and financial health issues, he noted there was a lack of inquiry to confirm anything. They never took her or Terry’s phones for deeper inquiry either, he noted.
Recordings Loretta Van Buren had made of her husband’s Xanax-fueled tirades toward her, his perceived enemies and most of all statements made by him were entered by the defense. One recording two days before his death was called Terry Van Buren’s “death confession.” In it, he said he would “blow my (expletive) head off” and cited the “hair trigger” of his handgun.
In his closing remarks, Zelbst asked the jury to consider the evidence, not only from the incident but of the investigation that followed Terry Van Buren’s death.
“Did they prove it wasn’t a suicide?”
Cabelka alleged Loretta Van Buren had motive to kill her husband from some of the things he said to her on those recordings. In them, Terry Van Buren can be heard calling her derogatory names and using hateful words toward her. Between him blaming her for much of his malaise to the dire financial straits the couple were in, the district attorney said the ingredients were there for murder.
“It was motive,” he said. “We don’t have to prove why.”
With a picture of a bitter man who burned bridges and testimony to his extreme ups and down, Cabelka said his fear early on was if a jury could find any sort of sympathy for Terry Van Buren. He called it a unique case.
“Very few people on this earth are sad that he’s gone,” he said. “He was a jerk, it’s uncontroverted.”
Then Cabelka asked another question for the jury to ponder:
“Is there an exception to murder if they’re a jerk?”
After asking the jury to again consider, is this a suicide or murder, Cabelka asked the jury to make its decision.
“The evidence speaks for itself,” he said. “Look at the evidence.”