A retirement reception will be held tomorrow, Thursday March 31, in the large courtroom of the third floor of the Jackson County Courthouse to honor John Wampler for 25 years of dedicated service and commitment as District Attorney. The event will be held from from 2 to 4 p.m.
Wampler was born to the late Wilbur and Lillian Wampler in Duke. He graduated from Duke High School in 1971, and attended Southwestern in Weatherford where he graduated with a B.A. degree in Political Science in 1974. In the fall, he entered the University of Oklahoma College of Law and received his Juris Doctor degree in 1977. He returned to Southwest Oklahoma and began a private practice with Bob Scarbrough until he decided to run for District Attorney.
Wampler has always had an interest in the position, and along with the encouragement of many people, he felt he could do a good job, so he decided to stick his neck out and run. His opponent would be the current District Attorney Steven Suttle, who had held the position for eight years. It was a contested hard fought race, in which Wampler triumphed and won.
He was elected in 1990, and on the first Monday in January of 1991, he became the District Attorney for the Third Judicial District. At that time the district was made up of Jackson, Tillman and Washita counties. In the Spring of 2002 nearby DA Dick Dugger announced his retirement. Wampler approached Speaker of the House Lloyd Benson with the idea of asking Legislature to change the county alignment to square up the counties. Wampler would add Greer and Harmon Counties to his district, minus Washita. Since the population of Greer and Harmon counties together was the same as Washita, it made more sense to make the change. Benson agreed with only one requirement, all the members of the bar in the three counties affected must be in agreement, and sign off on the proposal. The requirement was successfully completed and in 2003 the bill went through the Legislature and a smooth transition took place. Wampler now was the DA for Jackson, Kiowa, Greer, Harmon and Tillman Counties.
Over the many years as DA, Wampler said, “I have experienced a lot. I have witnessed two executions, despite the heinous crimes, or the dislike of the person who committed the crime. When you see the state carrying out an execution, it is hard and a very sobering event. One of the very toughest decisions, and probably the hardest part of the DA job for me was deciding if the state would seek the death penalty. The jury will make the final decision, but they cannot make that decision unless I file the Bill of Particulars, the starting process of a death penalty case. You talk to the victims, and you think and pray a lot and it leads you to plenty of soul searching. Jurors will tell you it is not an easy decision to make. Impact on families is hard and the DA office tries to represent the victims in the best way and that justice is done, but you to remember that two families are always involved and be respectful of both.”
A major accomplishment Wampler is very proud of is the District One Drug Task Force. Wampler sought funding for the program and received federal grant money. The Task Force brings together local and area agencies to coordinate efforts, and train agents. Agents in the task force are allowed to go anywhere in the district with no jurisdictions and investigate and focus on drug cases. Wampler said drugs and alcohol have always been a part of crimes, whether it be selling, using, manufacturing or stealing to support a drug habit.
Drug Court is another proud programs he helped start in Southwest Oklahoma. Wampler approached Judge Darby with the program giving one last chance for individuals to change their lives. It is a very hard and strict program that is intense and requires discipline. There are daily and weekly meetings along with frequent urinalysis, payment of restitution and court fees, obtaining a job and drivers license and rehabilitation. Wampler said the drug court program is the last chance before being sent to prison, to be productive citizens and self-sufficient, and most important take care of their families. Wampler said one of my most gratifying and rewarding feelings as DA was witnessing drug court participants, or people returning from prison, working and living a positive life.
When asked what cases or moments bring back vivid memories or thoughts, Wampler said, “My most memorable case, not because of the magnitude of the crime, but because of the circumstances would definitely be the Granite Reformatory Bobbie Parker case. The overload of media coverage and one of the longest trials in state history.”
Early in Wampler’s administration he said the hardest personal impact case he experienced was the bus crash accident in Snyder. He remembers being called out to the scene of the accident, and seeing the bodies of the children. It was overwhelming and something that you never forget.
Over the years, Wampler served in many honorable positions and received prestigious awards. Three times he was chosen by his fellow prosecutors to serve as President of the Oklahoma District Attorney Association, and the Chairman of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council. In 2009 he was also honored as the Prosecutor of the Year by the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
Wampler attributes his success, and for being reelected six times without opposition, to his staff and the people he has worked with over the years. “I have always tried to let my staff know that they are reason that I look good, because of their hard work I shine. My philosophy of management is hire the best people possible, and to let them do their job.”
He recommended to Governor Mary Fallin that Ken Darby be appointed as the next DA, and was very happy when she made the appointment. “Ken is very qualified and knows the job,” said Wampler. “And I can feel relieved knowing that my staff will be in good hands, and it will be a smooth transition.”
Wampler went on to say, “I want everyone to know that I am not retiring because I am tired of the job or unhappy. Over the years many people have shared with me that you will know when it is your time for retirement. I am at that point. I have good health, and still have a lot of activities planned. I will stay engaged in many areas of life, with my family, church, community and farming.”
Last week City of Altus Mayor Jack Smiley appointed Wampler to the position of Municipal Court Judge for the City of Altus. It will be a part time position that will keep him engaged in the area. Additional plans for Wampler are fishing, traveling, golf, farming projects and spending time with grandkids Gracie, Sadie and Konnor.
Wampler said he will miss the many wonderful relationships he has made over the years, not only in his district but throughout the state. He gives appreciation and thanks to all his staff, his friends, his family and wife Kendi. “I also want to give thanks to the fellow law enforcement, who never receive enough praise for their hard work,” he said.
In closing Wampler said one of the values that Governor Boren helped instill in him was when given the opportunity and privilege to hold a public office. “It is entrusted to you, it is not your office, it was there before you arrived and will be there when you leave. The people of Southwest Oklahoma entrusted to me, for the last 25 years the DA position. The position of the DA is very powerful and overwhelming. You literally have the ability to change a person’s life. You have to be very cautious and humble and never abuse that power unjustly. I am truly thankful and blessed, and want everyone to know every decision I made was with integrity and honesty. I hope the people in District three will look back on my tenure as DA and feel I have served them well.”