MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

August 24, 2013

DA: No evidence killing in Duncan is a hate crime

By Mike Smith
CNHI

— DUNCAN — Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks said Friday that there is no evidence that Christopher Lane of Australia was fatally shot because he was white or because he was from a foreign country.

Because of that, and because the three teenagers accused in his death face felony charges that could put them in prison for decades or life, seeking a hate-crime charge makes no sense, Hicks said. Hate crime in Oklahoma is a misdemeanor.

Hicks acknowledged that social media postings allegedly made by some of the accused teens appear racial in nature.

But, he said, “The evidence is insufficient to establish that race was the primary motive in the murder of Christopher Lane.”

Meanwhile, a judge has appointed the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to represent one of the teens, 16-year-old Chancey Luna. He, along with James Edwards Jr., 15, are charged with first-degree murder.

Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, is charged with use of a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and accessory after the fact to murder in the first degree. Luna and Edwards are being held without bond while bond has been set for $1 million for Jones.

Luna applied for an attorney through the Indigent Defense System, which in most counties contracts with attorneys to handle criminal cases for defendants who cannot afford a lawyer.

It will be up to Jim Berry, who handles many criminal defense cases for indigent clients in Stephens County, to either take the case or choose another attorney. Efforts to reach Berry on Friday were unsuccessful.

There was no application to the court on record Friday from Jones or Edwards seeking court-appointed counsel.

Prosecutors say the teens saw Lane jogging along Country Club Road in Duncan on Aug. 16 and followed him in a car, with Luna allegedly shooting him with a .22-caliber pistol. The gun had not been found as of late Friday afternoon.

Hicks reiterated Friday that there is no evidence the teenagers are tied to gangs and said his office has not sought out a man who has claimed the boys were out to kill his 17-year-old son, Christopher, as part of a gang initiation.

James Johnson told an Australian newspaper that when his son refused to join a gang, the teens put him on a hit list.

Police Chief Danny Ford said Thursday that the teenagers were trying to portray themselves as gangsters but in reality were not. Hicks agrees with the assessment.

He said neither he nor anyone in his office has interviewed Johnson.

“There is nothing more than they were thugs and they were trying to go out and put on a persona that they were something they were not,” Hicks said.

“Real gangs are shooting each other they are not shooting at straight civilians. There are turf wars over cash. They don’t generally stray over into the general population simply because they don’t want the attention that comes with this type of criminal act.”

Hicks also said that no level of gun control would have prevented the shooting.

“The three, by statute, cannot have a pistol in the first place,” Hicks said. “There is not another law, there is not another statute, there is not another rule — there is not a thing in the world — that would have prevented those three thugs from having a gun if they wanted one.”

Mike Smith writes for the Duncan Banner.