Hate-crime charges in spree would give sense of justice, TU law professor says
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2012
12/28/12 at 8:57 AM
Filing a hate crime charge in the Good Friday shootings would be secondary in consequences to a murder charge, but it might give the public and victims a sense of justice, a local law professor said.
Prosecutors are expected to file charges before the Monday court appearance of Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 33, who were jailed Sunday on three murder complaints and two additional shooting complaints. All five of the victims were black.
England and Watts, who are white, confessed to the shootings, according to police documents.
Evidence points to race-based motivations, leading to calls from state lawmakers and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a nationally known civil rights advocate, that the case be prosecuted as a hate crime.
A hate crime is one in which a victim is targeted solely because of his or her membership in a protected class under the law. Those classes under Oklahoma law are race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin and disability.
Under Oklahoma law, a hate crime is a misdemeanor on the first offense, with a maximum penalty of $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
The federal hate crime charge is a felony, which carries stronger penalties of up to a life sentence.
"That's the reason sometimes that the state passes something to the federal (prosecutors), because it's stronger penalties," said University of Tulsa law professor and Associate Dean of Faculty Development Tamra Piety.
Piety said she believes - based on media reports - that enough evidence exists to convict the suspects on hate-crime charges. She cites a racial slur in a Facebook posting attributed to England.
Piety said the purpose of hate-crime laws has been to beef up charges in a criminal case. For example, the burning of a cross in a yard might have been prosecuted by only a vandalism charge without the hate-crime charge option.
"When your hate crime is also a homicide, there's nothing much to amplify," Piety said.
But adding a hate-crime charge in a homicide case can provide a fuller and more well-rounded sense of justice in the eyes of the public, she said.
"I think it does add something extra (to the case), but it doesn't add much extra in the way of punishment," Piety said. "There are an array of charges that can be brought on this."
Tulsa prosecutors have said their top priority at this time is to bring charges addressing the murders and shootings.
District Attorney Tim Harris said this week that possible hate-crime prosecutions are being examined.
Hate-crime charges could be filed after the suspects' initial court appearance, or federal prosecutors could seek a hate-crime prosecution after the state murder prosecution, Piety said.
"I think we develop this category of hate crimes in response to perception that there were groups of people being singled out and being victimized on the basis of nothing more than their race," she said.
"As a society, we specifically disapprove of that ... so we've now created a separate category for that."
In Oklahoma, 543 arrest complaints were filed between 2002 and 2010 for crimes motivated by hate or bias, according to data from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Most of the complaints alleged intimidation (174) and vandalism (169), but simple assaults made up 96 of the arrests, and aggravated assaults represented 78 of the total.
Law enforcement officers arrested 412 people for those offenses - 251 white, 124 unknown, 23 black, 10 American Indian, three multiracial and one Asian. Most of the offenses occurred at private homes and involved anti-black motivation, according to the data.
Jackson and Sharpton public events
The Rev. Jesse Jackson
The Rev. Al Sharpton
- Rally for Hope and Healing
- 6 p.m. Saturday
- First Baptist Church North Tulsa
- 1414 N. Greenwood Ave.
(Appearing with the national NAACP president Benjamin Jealous.)
- Public meeting
- 3 p.m. Sunday
- Greater Union Baptist Church
- 955 E. 36th St. North.
Check back at tulsaworld.com for more updates. Find complete coverage at tulsaworld.com/shootings.
Original Print Headline: Hate charge may offer solace
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367