Vicki Behenna becomes first female district attorney in District 7
Former federal prosecutor and executive director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project Vicki Behenna is poised to begin her tenure as District 7’s first female District Attorney.
“I was born here in Oklahoma County,” District Attorney Behenna said. “I moved away when I was about ten and I came back to Oklahoma to start college when I was 18. So, I’ve lived here and raised my family here.”
She said it meant a lot to be elected Oklahoma County’s first female district attorney.
“It brings a little tear to my eye when I talk about it, quite honestly, because I just want young girls and even women my age to realize just because you’ve been a mom your whole life and you’ve been in a supporting role doesn’t mean that you can’t expand and do something challenging.”
Behenna’s opponent, Oklahoma County Commissioner and Republican Kevin Calvey, admitted during June’s GOP debate to being involved in only one jury trial over the course of his career. District Attorney Behenna said it’s crucial that she understands how to put a case together for trial.
“I know how to try a case,” she said. “The office is down several prosecutors right now and so if there’s a need for me to step in and try some of those cases, I certainly have the experience to do that.”
Behenna said her experience also lends itself to mentoring and guiding younger lawyers in the DA’s office.
“Because that office has very young lawyers right out of law school, it’s important to have somebody that has gone through a prosecution before and understands not only how to put those cases together, but how to train people and how to prepare for trial, and how to look at the evidence. So, I think all of that is going to be incredibly helpful to the office.”
She said she has an important perspective on criminal justice because of her son. Michael Behenna was one of the men associated with the group nicknamed the “Leavenworth 10”, a group of American servicemen convicted of war crimes during the 2008 occupation of Iraq. He was convicted of the murder of Ali Mansur in 2008, paroled in 2014, and pardoned by former President Donald Trump in 2019.
“I had a son go through the criminal system,” District Attorney Behenna said. “Seeing that from that different perspective, I mean, I care a lot about the system. I care a lot that people are treated fairly.”
Additionally, she said her time as Executive Director of The Oklahoma Innocence Project made her aware of the many flaws in the criminal justice system.
“I think being at the Oklahoma Innocence Project helped me understand how we can make mistakes,” she said.
She said some of the cases she worked on during her time at the Innocence Project are important to her and she thinks about them constantly.
“I was able to free three African American men from the North side of Tulsa. Each one of them had been convicted of first-degree murder and given sentences of life without parole. So, of course, those cases, I think about those men every day,” she said. “I still have relationships with those men, and I still talk to them. They’re doing well. I’m just really proud of the work that the Innocence Project did for those three men.”
In her early career, Behenna was a federal prosecutor. Notably, she was on the team of lawyers that convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
“I was a fairly young prosecutor when that happened, and being on that team, I was able to see how well law enforcement works together to solve a crime,” she said.
She said by the end of her tenure, she’d like to have improved the office’s efficiency.
“We’re down staff, and so there’s some lawyers that need to be hired immediately,” she said. “I’d like to see the office move more into a paperless kind of frame. Right now, they’re still very much moving paper around, and I know that the first assistant has been working on helping law enforcement present the evidence and our cases electronically. So, I really want to see that improve so we can make things a little more efficient over here.”
Behenna will officially begin her term as Oklahoma County’s District Attorney in January.
“I didn’t plan to be in this profession,” she said. “It’s just the way it happened. I’m thankful that I’m here, and I’m thankful that I have this opportunity now to be the District Attorney for Oklahoma County.”