By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Denny Phillips was aware of all of this, having smuggled drugs into prison cells and gaining status in the process; he was high in the tribal hierarchy of the Indian Brotherhood, a volatile Native American prison gang that began making noise in the early 1990s. Violent and organized, they deal drugs and call shots from the inside with freed members spread across the Midwest. Opposing gangs and their families visit on alternating days to avoid any eruptions.
Phillips, an Indian headdress with feathers encasing his neck, was responsible for recruiting efforts. In the 240-pound Tyner, he saw a walking refrigerator, an enforcer. More important, Tyner was broke and rudderless, the kind of clay Phillips could mold.
"Byrd was nomadic," Cindy David says. "He never really put roots down, moving from his father's house to his mother's. They separated when he was young. He wanted a family."
Phillips's reputation was such that Nicholson warned Tyner about keeping company with him, that he was dangerous, and that he should never believe the conniving Phillips was truly his friend.
"You go into prison and you come out following the same rules," Nicholson says. "But I wasn't going to dictate who his friends were."
Phillips's seduction took time. But in April 2009, Tyner abruptly quit his job as a welder. Friends he had hung out with for years were back-burnered. His girlfriend came home one day and saw several men in her living room; buzz cuts were being given out. It was homework for barber school, Tyner's latest pursuit; he had even dyed a stripe in his hair.
That didn't pay the bills, though, so she insisted he get a job. He started work as a cook. But every other waking moment was being spent with Phillips, whom he began to refer to as "brother."
In spring 2009, Phillips introduced Tyner to Casey "Diablo" Barrientos, 32, whom Denny had met while both were incarcerated. Barrientos had just been paroled in April after doing time for drug offenses and a 2001 drive-by shooting. He was affiliated with the South Side Locos, a Mexican gang. In the event that his rap sheet was unavailable, anyone who met Barrientos got the hint from the devil's horns tattooed on his forehead.
Despite his newfound freedom, Barrientos had no intention of giving up illicit activities or supplying the twilight culture. From his home in Oklahoma City, he filtered drugs—weed, coke, meth—passed along by a Mexican cartel, dispatching Phillips and Tyner to traffic them a few hours away in Tulsa or Grand Lake.
Phillips explained to Tyner that Barrientos needed a bodyguard, that threats had been made against his life. His fantasies of being a gunslinger were coming true.
Tyner was paid for his bodyguard work and got a cut of the drug deals. He felt he was doing as much work as Phillips, but Phillips always seemed to have wads of cash too big for a money clip.
Barrientos didn't seem to be giving Tyner as many drugs to sell. Phillips, meanwhile, had made as many as 50 or 60 trips to Oklahoma City, where Barrientos had a suburban compound worthy of De Palma: stacks of money totaling $100,000 on the coffee table, men armed with guns, hundreds of pounds of weed, and a stream of naked women.
One day in August 2009, Tyner pulled up next to Phillips in a Homeland grocery parking lot. Phillips's girlfriend, Karine Sanders, was sitting in the passenger seat. She would later testify that Tyner had complained of wanting more—more of what Phillips had. He had bills, a child to support. He was working just as hard as anyone. Barrientos was being greedy.
"Let's do something about it," Phillips said.
"Well, let's do it, then," Tyner said.
Tyner and his girlfriend separated that summer. She disliked Phillips and correctly suspected that Tyner wasn't being faithful. While attending beauty school, which hosted a barber's course, Tyner had met Symantha Stanton, and the two moved into Salina's only apartment complex, a converted motel with a handful of units. It was a just short drive to Tahlequah, where Phillips lived.
Tyner soon abandoned his barber plans and made regular treks to Oklahoma City, where Barrientos had set up a bedroom for him. He returned to Salina once a week to visit Stanton and his daughter. Stanton would later testify that she saw bullets and knives in their apartment.
The times she accompanied Tyner into Oklahoma City, she noticed that people there would refer to him as "Hooligan," a reference to the tattoo spanning his chest. But back in Salina, Hooligan was unknown—he was Byrd.
Sanders was present for two more conversations about Barrientos, who had recently relocated from his place on Springfield Drive to a single-story brick house at 1511 SW 56th Street in Oklahoma City. He had taken over the lease payments from childhood friend and fellow dealer Jose Fernando Fierro. While Sanders perceived Barrientos as generous, often giving his lieutenants money for gas, meals and rent, she said Tyner was adamant that he was being screwed out of money.
It would be easy. Barrientos was always on painkillers, his guard down. And he would soon let Tyner go, having been told by Phillips that he was complaining about pay. It was further incentive for Tyner and further subterfuge by Phillips: It would later be alleged that the latter owed Barrientos over $30,000 for drugs and a dark blue Dodge Charger procured in a private sale between the two.