The attorney for a man charged in a teen’s death during an alleged theft of fireworks said Friday that the district attorney’s decision to prosecute his client is “outrageous.”
The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office filed a first-degree manslaughter charge Friday morning against 32-year-old Johnny Mize Jr. under two theories: that he fatally shot 15-year-old Jake Ulrich during a period of anger and that Mize’s decision to shoot Ulrich was an overreaction to Ulrich and his cousin, Jack Ulrich, stealing from the fireworks stand owned by Mize’s father.
Authorities said they found Jake Ulrich’s body slumped over in the cab of Jack Ulrich’s truck, which had been abandoned in the 6500 block of West Edison Street. The fireworks stand was in the 600 block of South 65th West Avenue.
Jack Ulrich, 27, faces a misdemeanor larceny count in the theft. First Assistant District Attorney Erik Grayless said the value of what he’s accused of stealing, $600, no longer meets the threshold for a felony charge because of a change in the law that took effect this month.
By that rationale, Ulrich cannot be charged with felony murder, a charge that can be applied when a death occurs during the commission of a felony.
Tulsa-based attorney Nathan Milner, who represents the Ulrich family, told the Tulsa World the family is pleased to see charges filed against Mize. Jail records indicate that Mize posted $50,000 bond and was out of custody as of Friday afternoon.
“We’ve been adamant that this was unjustified and unwarranted,” Milner said of the shooting. “This (incident) was a larceny at best — a misdemeanor.”
But defense attorney Kevin Adams told the World the prosecution is blaming the wrong person for Jake Ulrich’s death. He said the evidence clearly shows Mize is innocent of any crime, and he alleged that the District Attorney’s Office seems to be “just anti-Second Amendment” based on its handling of the case and others such as that of former Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby.
“I cannot believe they did this to the Mize family,” Adams said. “It’s mind-blowing that this is the decision they’ve decided to make.”
Grayless said the Sheriff’s Office’s affidavit gave the state cause to question Mize Jr.’s actions in the altercation both due to his emotional state and what he said the Ulrich cousins did. He said the state’s second manslaughter theory, which isn’t used as often as a basis for prosecution, fits well for a situation such as the one involving Mize Jr.
“I’m not speaking about the facts of this case, but just to give the easiest example, two kids walk into a convenience store. One of them steals gum, and they attempt to flee,” Grayless said. “The store owner shoots one of them. We’d all agree that was an unnecessary and overreaching act to prevent that stolen gum. In other words, he took it too far.”
A probable cause affidavit states that Mize told Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office detectives that he saw two people in a green truck steal a box of fireworks, which prompted him to jump over the counter and point a gun at the people to “scare” them. Mize said he thought someone fired a shot at him because he heard a “pop” sound, and he told deputies he fired his gun after hearing the noise but wasn’t sure what, if anything, he hit.
Mize said he then jumped into the bed of the pickup, but he told detectives the driver of the truck swerved in an effort to throw him from the truck bed. He said he then shot out one of the pickup’s tires and that the driver fled on foot after the pickup came to a stop.
Jack Ulrich was interviewed about the events July 6 and was released.
Although Mize said he remembered the driver, later identified as Jack Ulrich, yelling after the truck stopped, he said he couldn’t remember details because he might have “blacked out.”
Mize’s father, Johnny Mize Sr., said in his interview with deputies that he saw a flash come from the green pickup before his son shot at it.
Mize Sr. said he also tried to jump into the truck bed but was unable to when it fled from the fireworks stand “at a high rate of speed.” Once he caught up with his son at Edison Street, Mize Sr. said both loaded the stolen fireworks from the green truck into their vehicle and drove back to the stand.
“Nobody likes to be stolen from, and we understand that, but there are rules about guns and when to use them,” Milner said Friday.
Adams said he and his co-counsel, Stephen Lee, will represent the Mizes even if they can’t afford to pay them because “this case is that outrageous” and the defense attorneys don’t think “some nerd with a law degree” should tell a working-class family how to defend their business from criminal activity.
“My guy was doing the right thing trying to protect himself,” Adams said.