, Muskogee, OK

March 23, 2013

Clock ticks for inmate

He has six days to ask to pull guilty plea in 1982 crimes

By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer

— A Muskogee man convicted of a 1982 armed robbery and fatal car crash has six days to request the right to withdraw his guilty plea.

James Edward Clayton celebrated his 68th birthday nine days ago in a prison in Washington state.

It’s been 30 years since Clayton escaped from the Community Treatment Center in Lawton and robbed Pierce’s Pharmacy at Callahan Street and East Side Boulevard. Clayton fled the robbery in a stolen car, which struck and killed Leora May Watson, 26, at York Street and Shawnee Bypass.

Clayton pleaded guilty in June 1983 to:

• Second-degree murder.

• Robbery with a firearm.

• Possession of a stolen vehicle.

• Larceny of a motor vehicle.

• Attempted larceny of a motor vehicle.

• Four counts of possession of controlled dangerous substance.

Clayton represented himself when he originally pleaded guilty, having fired his court-appointed attorney. He was sentenced to two life terms and seven concurrent 20-year sentences. After years of paperwork, he was allowed to withdraw that guilty plea in 2003, after he testified that he had not been made aware of the possible ramifications of defending himself.

He pleaded guilty again in 2004, a little more than a year after he was allowed to withdraw his first plea. He received a life sentence for second-degree murder and a 30-year sentence for armed robbery. His drug and automobile larceny sentences had expired.

Clayton didn’t appear in court Friday. However, his attorney, Fred Gilbert, met with Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore and District Judge Mike Norman for about 30 minutes. Moore said Clayton has requested the right to once again withdraw his now-eight-year-old guilty plea.  

According to court documents, Clayton has said that he wanted to file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in 2004, but his attorney at the time, Albert Hoch, did not return his phone calls.

Friday’s court hearing served as a reminder to Clayton’s new attorneys that Clayton now has less than a week to make a new motion to withdraw.

“The request to withdraw his plea was filed at the end of last month,” Moore said. “So he now has until Thursday, because the courthouse is closed for Good Friday, to make that request.”

The district attorney said the request would be heard by Norman, who would then rule on whether Clayton would even be eligible to withdraw the plea. If Norman rules against Clayton’s request, Clayton could file another request with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.  

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or