MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

September 25, 2013

Teen in Australian’s slaying seeks juvenile status

DUNCAN — The attorney for a 17-year-old charged as an accessory in the drive-by shooting death of Australian Christopher Lane wants the court to certify her client as a juvenile.

Sue Taylor, the attorney for Michael Dewayne Jones, filed a motion Monday seeking to have Jones certified as a juvenile instead of a youthful offender as he is currently charged. Such a change would significantly alter court proceedings and could seriously reduce a potential sentence.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a judge delayed Jones’ preliminary hearing until Nov. 6. It had been set for next week.

A private attorney and former public defender with no connection to the case said it is extremely unlikely Jones will be certified as a juvenile.

“Especially at 17, it’s an incredibly long shot,” said Emilie Kirkpatrick, a defense attorney in Oklahoma City.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement with connections to the case are prohibited from speaking publicly about it because of a gag order issued earlier by Stephens County Special District Judge Jerry Herberger.

Chancey Luna, 16, and James Edwards Jr., who turned 16 earlier this month, are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 16 shooting death of Lane. He was jogging along Country Club Road when he was fatally shot in the back.

Prosecutors say Luna pulled the trigger and Edwards was a passenger in a car Jones was driving when the shooting occurred. Jones is charged with use of a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and accessory to murder after the fact.

Not guilty pleas were entered for all three Duncan teens.

Jones was charged as a youthful offender, a classification created in Oklahoma in 1998 to hold youth accountable for serious crimes but allow rehabilitation options to be considered.

As a youthful offender, Jones essentially is being treated as an adult in court proceedings and that could continue at least up through any sentencing phase.

Before the gag order was issued, Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks said he likely would seek to have Jones sentenced as an adult if he is convicted. His charges combined carry a possible maximum sentence of 90 years in prison.

Luna and Edwards could be sentenced up to life in prison without parole if convicted. Authorities say Jones was the only one who cooperated with them during the initial investigation into Lane’s death.

In her motion, Taylor said Jones has no criminal convictions. She asked the court to order an appropriate background investigation and psychological testing of Jones and hold a hearing to determine his certification as a juvenile or youthful offender.

If he is certified as a juvenile, further court proceedings and records would no longer be open to the public and the potential sentence could be reduced significantly.

Kirkpatrick said Taylor’s motion, if granted, would lead to an extensive background check into Jones’ past, including his education and any prior contact with law enforcement. The latter means any contact with law enforcement and court officials, not just arrests or convictions for serious offenses.

“If he received a ticket for fighting in high school, that would show up,” she said.

The state’s Office of Juvenile Affairs also would give an opinion on whether there was enough time within the juvenile system to rehabilitate the defendant before he turns age 18 and six months, Kirkpatrick said.

Such a recommendation is unlikely to be favorable in Jones’ case based on the nature of the charges and other factors, she said.

“I would bet the report came back and say there is not enough time for rehabilitation within the juvenile system and it’s just not the right place for this 17-year-old to be,” she said.

Mike Smith writes for the Duncan Banner.

Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.

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