Owasso lawmaker Derby blasts Tulsa DA Harris for criticism on meth-drug vote
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Friday, February 24, 2012
2/24/12 at 5:06 AM
Read the Tulsa World’s continuing coverage of the meth epidemic.
A state legislator who was publicly scolded Wednesday by Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris shot back on Thursday.
"If Tim Harris wants to know why there's such a problem with meth in the Tulsa area, he should look in the mirror," Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, said in a news release.
"It's time the DA did his job and actually prosecuted meth offenders instead of plea bargaining with them. It's time he actually sent meth cooks to prison instead of devoting his energy to harassing law-abiding citizens with allergies.
"If he wants to do something about meth production," Derby said, "the answer is not complicated: arrest and prosecute meth-heads."
At a Wednesday news conference, Harris criticized three local lawmakers - Derby and Reps. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, and Ron Peters, R-Tulsa - after they voted against a measure that would have made pseudoephedrine, a popular allergy drug that is a key ingredient in most Oklahoma meth labs, available only with a prescription.
Despite the endorsement of Harris and other district attorneys across the state, the measure died on a 7-6 vote Tuesday in the House Public Health Committee.
The committee unanimously approved an alternative measure offered by Derby that would link Oklahoma to a multistate pseudoephedrine tracking system and lower the maximum amount of the drug that could be bought in Oklahoma pharmacies.
Derby compared Harris' preferred bills to proposals to restrict gun ownership in the name of fighting crime.
"It's disturbing that the arguments DA Harris uses to restrict law-abiding citizens' access to medicine are the same arguments used by liberal gun control groups - both refuse to hold criminals accountable and instead target honest citizens for punishment," he said.
"For too long, Tim Harris has been selling out to liberal interest groups who support soft-on-crime approaches and early release of criminals. He's plea bargained with some of Tulsa's worst offenders instead of throwing the book at them."
Harris called Derby's allegations "ludicrous."
Last year, he said, he authorized 249 felony charges of manufacturing or endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine.
Because the Legislature failed to act on a prescription restriction bill last year, Harris said, he introduced a policy of insisting on a jury trial in any manufacturing or endeavoring case in which the defendant won't accept a sentence of 10 years in prison.
State law sets the sentencing range at seven years to life.
"It's either 10 years to do, or you've bought yourself a jury trial," Harris said.
In three cases that went to jury trials, Harris' prosecutors got convictions and sentences of 25, 30 and 40 years.
"I have drawn a line in the sand for those who manufacture," he said. "There is no plea negotiation. If you're a manufacturer of methamphetamine in Tulsa County and I can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, you are going to the penitentiary for a minimum of 10 years."
In cases in which people were killed in fires caused by meth labs, Harris said, his policy is to pursue felony murder charges.
In situations in which more than one person is arrested in a meth-lab bust and the evidence shows that one person is primarily culpable, Harris said his prosecutors have occasionally offered lesser charges to encourage co-defendants to testify.
But, he said, if the evidence is there, he refuses to back away.
"If we have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt where we're willing to take this to trial, ... there is no plea negotiation," he said.
Original Print Headline: Lawmaker fires back at DA
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Rep. David Derby: "It's time the DA did his job and actually prosecuted meth offenders instead of plea bargaining with them. It's time he actually sent meth cooks to prison."
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris: He calls Derby's allegations "ludicrous" and said: "I have drawn a line in the sand for those who manufacture (meth). There is no plea negotiation."