MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 18, 2014

Hearing to withdraw guilty plea postponed

Judge becomes ill; case involving robbery, fatal crash postponed

A hearing for a man seeking to withdraw his guilty plea regarding a 1982 armed robbery and fatal car crash was postponed Tuesday after the judge became ill.

District Attorney Larry Moore said the secretary for District Judge Mike Norman informed both the district attorney and the attorneys for James Edward Clayton that Norman had become ill and had to seek medical attention. His condition was unavailable Tuesday evening.

Tuesday’s court appearance for Clayton was rescheduled for April 10.

Clayton, 68, pleaded guilty in June 1983 to second-degree murder for the death of Leora May Watson, 26.

Moore said he hopes the delay will give him time to talk to Watson’s family members, but he has not been able to locate them.

“I would encourage them to contact me so I could meet with them before April 10,” Moore said.

In 1982, Clayton escaped from a community treatment center in Lawton and robbed a Muskogee pharmacy. He fled the robbery in a stolen car which struck and killed Watson at York Street and Shawnee Bypass.

He was sentenced to two life terms and seven concurrent 20-year sentences.

He was allowed to withdraw that guilty plea in 2003.

This is the second time Clayton has requested to withdraw his plea, said Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore.

In 2004, he pleaded guilty to the same charges he pleaded guilty to in 1983. He was again sentenced to life in prison.

During the April 10 hearing, “Evidence will be presented to determine whether or not he will be allowed to withdraw his plea (from 2004),” Moore said.

“It’s his motion, so the burden is upon him to present evidence as to whether or not he should be allowed to withdraw his plea,” Moore added, and the district attorney’s office will present information to counter that.

If Clayton were to be allowed to withdraw his plea, a new trial would be scheduled, Moore said. If not, he will return to Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Wash., where he has been incarcerated, to finish his sentence.

Clayton was returned from Washington to a prison in Hominy, said Jerry Massie, public information officer for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He was then returned to Muskogee County/City Detention Facility by Muskogee County Sheriff’s personnel, said Sheriff Charles Pearson. He was booked into jail here Jan. 24, jail records show.

Clayton is being incarcerated in the Muskogee facility at an average daily cost of $43, Pearson said. Clayton will remain in Oklahoma until the April hearing, but may be transferred to an Oklahoma Department of Corrections facility, Pearson said.

Reach Anita Reding at (918) 684-2903 or areding@muskogeephoenix.com.

What’s next

The court appearance for James Edward Clayton was rescheduled for April 10.

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