Judge stands by decision to require teen to attend church
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2012
11/18/12 at 8:05 AM
MUSKOGEE - A judge's decision to require a teenager to attend church as part of a deferred sentence for manslaughter may not be enforceable, a prosecutor said.
Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore said he knows of no law that would allow the judge to make it a condition of the teen's sentence.
"I'm not aware of any authority to order someone to participate in a religious event as part of punishment," Moore said. "I anticipate a constitutional issue with separation of church and state."
But District Judge Mike Norman said he stands by his decision last week.
"I received a couple of bad calls - one from Oregon and one from Missouri - telling me it was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. They may well be right, but that's what I did and we made a record," Norman said.
"If someone wants to appeal my decision, they're entitled to do that," he said.
The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene.
Alred, a high school and welding school student, told Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.
Alred was given two breath tests, which at 0.06 and 0.07 fell below the 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness for adults. He was underage and considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
Alred was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender. He pleaded guilty in August and had no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.
Many tears were shed at Alred's sentencing last week.
He faced Dum's family and apologized for drinking and driving. He and Dum's father embraced.
"I thought the young man deserved a shot," Norman said. "He appeared to have a good record up to date. He just used poor judgment. We've all used poor judgment at one time or other, it just didn't get as severe as his did."
Norman said there are other conditions for Alred's probation, such as wearing an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption, undergoing drug and alcohol assessments, graduating from high school and welding school, attending victim-impact panels, and speaking on the consequences of drinking and driving.
"If he can live up to the conditions ... he has a chance to live a great life. If he can't do that, I'm afraid sooner or later I'll have to send him to the penitentiary," Norman said. "I did what I thought was right under the circumstances."
If the defendant had been of a religious affiliation other than Christian, Norman said that he agreed it would have to be something to look at.
But Moore said the church condition puts his office, which supervises offenders, in a quandary if Alred doesn't go to church.
By all accounts, Alred attends church anyway. His minister was in the courtroom.
"If that presents itself, I think I would be ethically required to make sure it is an enforceable position," Moore said. "I'm all for going to church. I go to church all the time, but I don't have the authority to make you go to church, nor is it my job to make you go to church.
"I'd love for courts to order somebody to go to church, but part of my job is to uphold the Constitution."
Moore said he has previously heard Norman urge defendants to attend church. But this is the first court order on a sentence of punishment that he is aware of.
As part of probation, Moore said that Alred will report to his office once a month.
"If this comes up, as far as a violation, I'll not do anything until we make sure that it can be ordered and the violation of such is not unconstitutional," Moore said.
Alred's attorney Donn Baker said they do not plan to appeal the conditions of the deferred sentence.
"My client goes to church every Sunday," Baker said last week. "This isn't going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him."
Original Print Headline: Judge stands by church sentence
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
District Judge Mike Norman: "If someone wants to appeal my decision, they're entitled to do that."