TULSA, Okla. – One of two Oklahoma men accused of going on a racially motivated shooting spree in a predominantly black section of Tulsa this month says he has no ill-will toward black people and counts several of them among his friends.
"I always got along with everybody. It didn't matter what color you (were)," Jake England told his attorney, Clark Brewster, in a brief videotaped interview from jail that Brewster gave to The Associated Press.
A judge entered not guilty pleas Monday for England and Alvin Watts, who appeared in Tulsa County District Court via closed-circuit television from jail, where they have been held since their arrests Easter Sunday. They face murder and hate crimes charges for allegedly killing three people and wounding two others.
Special Judge William Hiddle assigned a lawyer to Watts and entered not guilty pleas for both men to charges of first-degree murder, shooting with the intent to kill and malicious harassment in the April 6 attacks in Tulsa. The harassment counts imply the victims were targeted because they are black.
The first-degree murder counts are punishable by execution or life in prison. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
"I want to reiterate that this is the first step in obtaining justice in this case," said Doug Drummond, Tulsa County First Assistant District Attorney. "In these types of cases, it's more of a marathon than a sprint."
Authorities, who have described the pair as white, contend the two housemates targeted their victims because they believe England wanted to avenge his father's shooting death by a black man two years ago. Police said England and Watts confessed after their arrests and said they chose the victims at random.
The early-morning shootings terrorized Tulsa's black community over Easter weekend. William Allen, Bobby Clark and Dannaer Fields were killed, and David Hall and Deon Tucker were wounded.
A day before the shootings, England apparently wrote a Facebook post saying that it was the second anniversary of his father's death, using a racial slur and lamenting that "it's hard not to go off."
Brewster said England is Cherokee Indian. In the videotaped interview, Brewster asks England why he used the slur on the posting.
"It was just express(ing) the way I was upset about the guy that shot my dad," England told Brewster in the video, which lasts less than eight minutes. "That's the only time I ever expressed anything like that about somebody."
Documents filed with the charges said anonymous callers to a police hotline before the men were arrested claimed England was a racist who hated black men and that he "has mentioned he will die in a shootout with the police if he has to." England's family and friends have said the death of his father and his girlfriend's January suicide sent him into a downward spiral.
Oklahoma's hate crime law applies in cases where a defendant targets a victim specifically because of that person's race, religion, ancestry, natural origin or disability.
Weak penalties, however, have resulted in it usually only being used in cases involving low-level misdemeanors where prosecutors want a longer sentence. The malicious harassment law is a misdemeanor on the first offense and carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.