Two people charged with beating a man to death in a gang-related attack and setting his body on fire will go to trial in Tulsa County this fall after apparently rejecting offers to resolve their cases through plea deals.
Gerald Keith Lowe Jr., 41, and Michaela Riddle, 27, are accused of first-degree murder in the November 2016 homicide of 23-year-old Courtney Palmer at a north Tulsa residence. Tulsa Police found Palmer’s burned body in a shallow grave in Muskogee County on Dec. 15, 2016, and the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office determined he died of “homicidal violence by multiple modalities.”
The case was the subject of a two-part special of the “The First 48” TV show, which follows law enforcement as they investigate homicides.
Lowe and Riddle faced the death penalty effective November 2017, but Assistant District Attorney Mark Collier said last month that his office would withdraw its request for consideration of capital punishment. He said then that the death penalty is no longer on the table regardless of whether Lowe and Riddle decided to enter pleas of guilty or chose to proceed to jury trials.
However, he maintained the allegations against both defendants are “egregious” and merit consideration of life without parole if they are found guilty.
In a court hearing Wednesday afternoon, Lowe’s attorney, Brian Aspan, told District Judge Sharon Holmes that “we have not been able to reach an agreement” in the case. Aspan said in court last month that the state offered to resolve the matter with a plea that would result in a life without parole sentence, which he acknowledged would be a “hard sell” for his client to accept.
Lowe on Wednesday asked Holmes whether he was still eligible to receive the death penalty. She referred the question to Aspan, who could be heard explaining that it no longer applied.
Riddle was not in court Wednesday, but Holmes ordered her and Lowe to appear Aug. 26 for a status check ahead of a scheduled jury trial beginning Nov. 4. Her attorney, Kevin Adams, said previously that she could have her case closed by pleading guilty and agreeing to a sentence of life imprisonment plus possibly 10 years.
Aspan said Wednesday that it’s possible Lowe and Riddle will need to have separate trials, as they could present conflicting defenses to the charges against them. In addition to murder, each is charged with witness intimidation, kidnapping, committing a gang-related offense and desecration of a human corpse.
Charletha Mack, 42, faces one count of being an accessory to murder based on allegations she allowed the attack on Palmer to take place at her residence without notifying authorities. Mack and 20-year-old Jeannetta Thomas testified during a preliminary hearing in 2017, after which the state dismissed its case against Thomas in favor of designating her as a material witness.
Witnesses at the preliminary hearing alleged Lowe and Riddle attacked Palmer because they thought he set up a person named “Duke,” identified in court as Carl Harris, which Palmer denied.
Detectives have said Palmer was a witness to an altercation at a south Tulsa apartment complex over the whereabouts of car keys, which resulted in Harris being shot.
Palmer, according to police, spoke to detectives about the shooting shortly before his disappearance.
Detective Jason White testified previously that officers were able to tie Lowe and Riddle to the site of the discovery of Palmer’s remains after retrieving DNA from items found inside a nearby dilapidated residence.
Mack, who remains jailed on $500,000 bond, is also due back in court Aug. 26, but she has not yet received a trial date. She is expected to testify again for the prosecution if Lowe and Riddle have jury trials.
Actor Jason Lee talks about his new photo exhibit that is being shown at the same time as photos from Larry Clark's iconic photo book "Tulsa."