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Tulsa had second-hottest September on record; state had fourth

In a year with historic flooding and a near-record number of tornadoes in Oklahoma, Tulsa had its second-hottest September since records began in 1895, the state’s climatologist said Tuesday.

The average temperature last month was 81.2 degrees — 8.2 degrees above normal, state climatologist Gary McManus said.

“September normally sees at least one or two decent cold fronts to whet the appetite for fall,” McManus said in his monthly weather summary.

“Mother Nature had different plans this year, however, steering summer right past the beginning of autumn ...”

The hottest September on record for Tulsa was an average 81.9 degrees in 1931, one of the Dust Bowl years, he said.

September this year was also the fourth-hottest statewide.

“The statewide average temperature of 79.4 degrees — as observed by the Oklahoma Mesonet — was a whopping 7.1 degrees above normal,” he said.

“Only 1931’s 80.1 degrees, 1998’s 79.6 degrees, and 1939’s 79.5 degrees were higher.”

Tulsa had 19 days in September with highs in the 90s, according to the Mesonet.

Mesonet sites at Bixby and Skiatook recorded temperatures in the 90s on 19 and 17 days in September, respectively.

The hot temperatures followed record-breaking rain and flooding in May and June, and the wettest August on record for the northeast part of the state.

May was the third-wettest on record, statewide, according the Mesonet.

Oklahoma so far this year also has the second-most documented tornadoes — 138 — since records began in 1950. The highest total of 145 tornadoes occurred in 1999.

“It’s definitely possible,” to tie or break that record, McManus said last month.

“All it takes is one storm system to release a slew of tornadoes.”

McManus said the jet stream — an area of winds 120-250 mph 6 to 9 miles high in the atmosphere that steers weather systems — has mainly been responsible for both the wet and hot periods this year.

“It’s really just a reflection of how that (weather) pattern just keeps getting stuck on certain modes,” he said by phone Tuesday. “It’s really what’s that jet stream doing.”

The three-month outlook for the region by the Climate Prediction Center — issued Sept. 19 — shows Oklahoma with a 40% to 50% chance of having above-normal temperatures for October, November and December.

There are equal chances of having average, above- or below-normal precipitation in eastern and central Oklahoma, and a 33% to 40% chance of above-average precipitation for northwest parts of the state, the center said.

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Ex-Dallas officer who killed neighbor found guilty of murder

DALLAS — A white former Dallas police officer who shot her black unarmed neighbor to death after, she said, mistaking his apartment for her own was convicted of murder Tuesday in a verdict that prompted tears of relief from his family and chants of “black lives matter” from a crowd outside the courtroom.

The same jury that found Amber Guyger guilty in the September 2018 death of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean, will consider her fate after hearing additional testimony that started Tuesday afternoon. She could be sentenced to from five years to life in prison under Texas law.

The jury took a matter of hours to convict Guyger, 31, after six days of testimony.

Cheers erupted in the courthouse as the verdict was announced, and someone yelled “Thank you, Jesus!” In the hallway outside the courtroom, a crowd celebrated and chanted “black lives matter.” When the prosecutors walked into the hall, they broke into cheers.

After the verdict was read, Guyger sat alone, weeping, at the defense table.

Jean’s friends and family later testified to explain how his death has affected them. First on the stand was Allison Jean, who said her son was killed just before he was due to turn 27.

“My life has not been the same. It’s just been like a roller coaster. I can’t sleep, I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me,” she said.

Botham Jean’s sister, Allisa Findley, told the jury that she and her mother cry a lot, her formerly “bubbly” younger brother has retreated as if into a shell, and that her father is “not the same.”

“It’s like the light behind his eyes is off,” Findley said.

She said her children are now afraid of police.

Prosecutors also submitted text messages — accepted as evidence over defense objections — that indicated Guyger lacks sensitivity toward black people. In one, she suggests participants at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Dallas could be persuaded to go home with the use of physical violence and pepper spray. In a message sent to Guyger’s phone, the messenger suggests she would like a German shepherd because the dog is racist. Guyger declares that she hates “everything and everyone but y’all.”

Guyger’s defense attorneys can argue that she deserves a light sentence because she acted out of sudden fear and confusion. The judge is expected to provide guidance on sentencing law.

It is unclear how long the punishment phase of the trial will last. Testimony will resume Wednesday.

The basic facts of the unusual shooting were not in dispute throughout the trial. After a long shift at work and still in uniform, Guyger walked up to Jean’s apartment — which was on the fourth floor, directly above hers on the third — and found the door unlocked. Thinking the apartment was her own, she drew her service weapon and entered.

Jean, an accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, had been eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger entered his home and shot him.

The shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

“This is a huge victory, not only for the family of Botham Jean, but this is a victory for black people in America,” said Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers for Jean’s family. “It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change policing culture around the world.”

The jury that convicted Guyger was largely made up of women and people of color.

Attorney Ben Crump, also representing the family, credited the makeup of the jury for Tuesday’s conviction, and said he expects them to deliver a weighty sentence.

“I look and this jury. And I look at the diversity of this jury,” he said. “They will see past all the technical, intellectual justifications for an unjustifiable killing. And I believe they will do the right thing.”

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata declined to comment Tuesday afternoon, saying Guyger’s lawyers asked him to wait until after sentencing. The group, which represents city police officers, has paid for Guyger’s legal defense and security.

The verdict may have defused tensions that began simmering Monday when jurors were told they could consider whether Guyger had a right to use deadly force under a Texas law known as the castle doctrine — even though she wasn’t in her own home.

The law is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that state a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder. Prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors that while the law would have empowered Jean to shoot someone barging into his apartment, it doesn’t apply “the other way around.”

In a frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led to tenants going to the wrong apartments.

But prosecutors questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place, asked why she didn’t call for backup and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner.

Guyger was arrested three days after the killing. She was later fired and charged with murder. Tension has been high during the trial in Dallas, where five police officers were killed in an attack three years ago.

Some state lawmakers support letting college athletes get paid for endorsements

OKLAHOMA CITY — Some Oklahoma lawmakers support a recent move by California to let college athletes profit from endorsements.

Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City, said he is considering legislation to allow it in Oklahoma.

The California measure is expected to take effect 2023. It would also allow college athletes to hire agents.

Similar bills are being introduced in other states and could result in a clash with the NCAA that would have to be resolved in court.

“A lot of these athletes give more to the university than what they get out,” Stone said. “They live some of the most hectic lives. I think a lot fail to recognize that as a student athlete in college, your calendar is entirely spoken for.

“If you were to work out how many hours they put in compared to the benefit, it looks about like minimum wage.”

Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, is the former football coach for the University of Tulsa. He supports letting college athletes be compensated for things such as endorsements.

“I think if a person is able to have a job, then let them have a job,” Rader said. “It is part of the free-market system.”

The conversation about letting college players earn money has been going on for years, Rader said.

“The coaches have known for years that if it went to court, the court will rule in favor of the individuals,” Rader said. “You can’t make laws restricting people from having a job.”

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, played football at the University of Tulsa. He said that now that the law has passed in California, Oklahoma should also allow it.

The state would be at a competitive disadvantage if it did not follow suit, he said.

Nichols said some college athletes leave school early to earn money playing professional sports. Allowing them to earn money from things like endorsements would incentivize them to stay in school and finish a degree, he said.

Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, played football at Southern Methodist University.

“I am for college athletes being able to get their own endorsements,” Dollens said.

Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, also supports the move.

“Athletes should benefit from the profits they are generating,” Goodwin said.

However, Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, said he can “see all kinds of pitfalls” in the idea.

“You just turned it into a pro system,” he said.

Quinn said he views the college system to be much more sacred than the professional system that has been corrupted by money.

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Some Oklahoma death-row inmates to get better accommodations

OKLAHOMA CITY — Some death-row inmates will be moved to better living conditions soon, the head of the Department of Corrections has told the ACLU of Oklahoma.

“The department has decided to relocate all qualifying death row inmates from H Unit to A Unit within 30 days,” DOC interim Director Scott Crow said in a letter to Megan Lambert, an attorney for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “This move will significantly change their access to natural light and view of the outdoors.”

The change was reported Saturday by The Appeal, which publishes original journalism and commentary about criminal justice.

H Unit houses death-row inmates at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. The concrete facility is similar to an underground bunker and was built in 1991. Condemned men are locked in their cells there for up to 24 hours a day, according to the ACLU of Oklahoma.

In his letter, Crow noted that the recreation area in A Unit “has direct sunlight and outside air in a fenced rather than walled environment where conversation among inmates is unrestricted.”

“We also plan to begin contact visitation upon their relocation consistent with A Unit visiting procedures.”

Crow declined a request for an interview but said in the letter that the issue had been a topic of informal discussions in the agency and the corrections community for some time.

The agency declined to explain what it considered “qualifying conditions.”

“As to the qualifying conditions, we are not going to go into those at this time,” said Matt Elliott, a DOC spokesman.

The agency currently houses 46 death-row inmates on H unit, Elliott said.

If inmates adjust well to the new environment in A Unit, they will be considered for jobs and religious services, according to Crow’s letter.

“Group exercise and increased programing opportunities are not planned at this time,” Crow wrote, adding that the agency will consider those privileges in the future.

The changes came after the ACLU sent Crow a letter highly critical of conditions on H Unit, calling them cruel and inhumane and saying it was ready to litigate the matter in federal court.

Lambert said several organizations signed onto the letter listing the problems with housing inmates on H Unit.

Although the move to A Unit is a welcome improvement, she said she is not completely satisfied with the response from Crow and needs some clarification.

“We are hoping to simply negotiate with the DOC,” Lambert said. “It seems that they understand housing death sentence people in solitary confinement is an issue and are working to rectify that,” Lambert said.

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