April Wilkens is an outspoken advocate for survivors of domestic violence and is currently fighting for the passage of a DVSJA-type bill in Oklahoma. In 1998, she was sentenced to life in prison, where she remains incarcerated, for killing her abusive former partner.
Wilkens’s history of abuse was well documented in over 14 police reports during the course of her relationship and following its breakup. Wilkens repeatedly informed the police that her partner raped her, beat her, broke into her home, kidnapped her at gunpoint, stalked her, and blackmailed her. Multiple witnesses observed the abuse. Yet police refused to help her, and the man who abused her, the son of a prominent local businessman, remained at liberty.
On the night that would lead to her incarceration, Wilkens’s former partner beat and sexually assaulted her for hours until she was able to take his gun and fire multiple times, killing him. She waited for police to arrive, believing they would recognize she’d done nothing wrong, but they placed Wilkins under arrest.
Wilkens was charged with first degree murder. She testified for three days in her own defense, and her attorney argued that she suffered from “Battered Woman Syndrome.” The court and judge, however, were skeptical of the then-untried and novel legal defense in the state of Oklahoma, and her attorney’s failure to offer an expert witness and the suppression of key evidence hurt her case. She was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Today, she is a leader in Mabel Bassett Correctional Center where she encourages other women to heal and stand up for themselves. She hopes that the passage of a DVSJA-type bill in Oklahoma will bring her and many other survivors relief.