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Families, Politicians “Outraged” Over Early Release of Man Convicted in Bible-Freeman Murders
The family of 16-year-old Lauria Bible says "it's time for accountability" in the case of a quadruple murder that continues to haunt northeastern Oklahoma.
The sole suspect convicted in connection with a 23-year-old quadruple murder in rural Oklahoma is a free man after serving less than three years in state prison, officials said.
Ronnie D. Busick, 71, was released from the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center on Friday, May 19, just 38 months after pleading guilty to charges of accessory to murder, according to multiple media reports. Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections stated Busick earned “accelerated credits” — 60 credits per month — plus time already served while serving his 10-year sentence, according to NBC Tulsa affiliate KJRH-TV.
He will now spend the next five years on probation, with one year supervised.
Lorene Bible, mother of missing teen and presumed murder victim Lauria Bible, told Oxygen.com she is “mad and telling everyone” because “this is crap.”
“They’re protecting his rights,” said Lorene from outside the prison walls. “They didn’t protect ours.”
Busick was the only living suspect charged in 2018 in connection with the grisly December 1999 murders of married couple Kathy Freeman, 38, and Danny Freeman, 40. Both victims were shot to death before their trailer home was set ablaze in the rural prairies of Welch, Oklahoma — about 80 miles from Tulsa in the northeastern-most part of the state.
The Freemans’ daughter, Ashley Freeman, 16, as well as Ashley’s best friend, Lauria Bible, also 16, were believed to be kidnapped in the overnight ambush and held captive for a period of days or weeks before their presumed murders.
Their bodies have never been found.
Lorene and a small group of protesters gathered outside the correctional facility in solidarity beginning Thursday evening, telling Oxygen.com she wanted to look Busick in the eyes upon his release. However, Busick was released undetected by the crowd after officials escorted him to a local bus station before 7 a.m., according to ABC Joplin, Missouri, affiliate KODE-TV.
“He did not leave through the front door,” said the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ Acting Chief of Communications, Kay Thompson.
The bus carrying Busick left for an undisclosed location.
“I wanted him to know he’s getting out of there; he’s getting to walk around free,” Lorene told Oxygen.com. “Those two girls are not.”
Craig County District Attorney Matt Ballard — who prosecuted the case against Busick — stated he was “outraged” on behalf of the families, according to a May 8 letter reviewed by Oxygen.com.
“The agreed plea (guilty to accessory to felony [murder]) was intended to put Busick in prison, but, most of all, to encourage his cooperation with investigators to find Lauria and Ashley,” Ballard stated.
Prosecutors initially charged Busick with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, and arson and were willing to agree to a plea deal, should Busick lead investigators to the girls’ bodies.
Busick failed to do so, though court records show the more severe counts were eventually dismissed.
Lorene isn’t alone in her frustrations, with several local and state-level officials voicing their displeasure after news of Busick’s release earlier this month. State Senator Michael Bergstrom — once Lauria’s English teacher at Bluejacket High School — issued a press release on May 2, remembering “how the community pulled together for the family” and Lorene’s hopes that her daughter was still alive.
“This is a travesty, and my prayers go out to the family,” Bergstrom stated. “Unfortunately, the agreement reached with Busick in this case resulted in him getting a ridiculously small prison sentence, even though he has yet to help law enforcement recover the girls’ bodies. It’s outrageous.”
Searches in recent years have heavily focused on the ghost town of Picher, Oklahoma — about 25 miles northeast of the crime scene — where suspects Warren “Phil” Welch, David Pennington, and Busick reportedly kept the girls captive at Welch’s mobile home. The men were active in the manufacturing and use of methamphetamines and bounced between Picher and nearby Chetopa, Kansas, where the men then lived.
Welch died of ALS in 2007, while Pennington died in 2015 of chronic lung disease.
More than a dozen witnesses reported seeing photographs of the bound girls, whom investigators believe were raped, tortured, and murdered, per an affidavit reviewed by Oxygen.com. Investigators believe the killer(s) purportedly hid Lauria and Ashley’s bodies in one of the thousands of abandoned and inaccessible lead mines of Picher and its vast surrounding area, now a toxic, government-owned superfund site.
Busick later told reporters following his conviction that he and the others killed Kathy and Danny Freeman over “a cheap piece of dope” and that taking Ashley and Lauria was merely opportunistic. He admitted to being there on the night in question but has denied having a direct role in the murders.
Lauria’s family, including her cousin, Lisa Bible Brodrick, have championed the case for decades, a case they say was “botched” since the day of the murders.
As widely reported, Kathy's body was found in the burnt rubble on the morning of Dec. 30, 1999, after nearby ranchers found the home ablaze. At the time, investigators with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation believed Danny killed his wife before running off with the girls, making him the prime suspect.
Lorene and her husband, Jay, found the burnt body of Danny Freeman the next day, hours after authorities released the scene.
“It’s just time for accountability,” Brodrick told Oxygen.com in light of Busick’s release. “For 23 years, we’ve let it go, and at this point, it’s time for someone to be accountable for all the wrongdoing in our case.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond called the murders “horrific.” Still, he claimed he didn’t have the legal authority to stop Busick’s release, according to a May 5 letter he sent the Bible family reviewed by Oxygen.com.
Loved ones said they believed Busick’s sentence fell under the state’s 85% rule, which mandates individuals convicted of certain crimes serve 85% of their sentence. However, that was not the case for charges of accessory to murder and he was awarded early release on grounds of good behavior.
Lorene and Brodrick hoped that creating a petition on Change.org could stop Busick from walking free.
Lorene told Oxygen.com that, despite Busick's release, they’re still collecting signatures in hopes of changing the laws so that the 85% rule could be applied to all accessory to- crimes in Oklahoma — with Drummond’s support.
“I stand ready to assist any legislator who might wish to draft a bill addressing this clear problem,” the Attorney General said in his letter.
As of Friday, May 19, the petition amassed more than 19,000 signatures.
The family continues to invite the public to the Find Lauria Bible page on Facebook, where hundreds are posting photos of lit candles in a show of support for the missing girls.
As is the case every time Lorene addresses the media, she tells Oxygen.com her plight will not stop until she finds Lauria and Ashley, who disappeared 23 years, four months, and 19 days ago. Lauria would have turned 40 in April.