Living a Dream of Murder

An ex-Marine spun elaborate fantasies about being a hit man. One day they came true.

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, a tattoo of 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."

Casey “Diablo” Barrientos
Tim Lane
Casey “Diablo” Barrientos
Denny Phillips
Tim Lane
Denny Phillips

Phillips' 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' 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 Indians 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 at Boomerang's. 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 Phillips 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' 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 just a 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 he'd gotten splayed across 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 St. in Oklahoma City. He had taken over the lease payments from childhood friend and fellow dealer Jose Fernando Fierro, age 30. 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.

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My Voice Nation Help

Just another story about dopes on dope.


Why I always say that nothing good comes from Oklahoma...


I sat down yesterday and read this article two times.  I found these characters really fascinating and bizarre at the same time.   I thought about this story for a while and wondered why every town regardless of size, has these same people.  Names are different but the personalities and insecurities are the same.  Dallas is no different than Oklahoma, NM, or any other state.  Crime, drugs, prostitution is everywhere.