TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Prosecutors said Friday they would seek the death penalty against two Tulsa men charged in an April 2012 shooting rampage that killed three black people and left two others wounded.
Jake England, 20, and Alvin Watts, 33, are charged with first-degree murder in what authorities describe as the racially motivated killings of William Allen, Bobby Clark and Dannaer Fields, who were shot over Easter weekend as they walked near their homes.
England and Watts, who also face hate crimes charges, are due to be arraigned Wednesday in district court. Under Oklahoma law, the potential punishment on each of the murder charges is either life in prison with parole, life without parole or the death penalty.
“The defendants are presumed to be innocent under the law but we will be prepared to present our evidence at future due process hearings,” District Attorney Tim Harris said in a statement Friday.
Attorneys for both men said Friday they had hoped prosecutors would have decided against seeking the death penalty.
“I’m always disappointed when it is filed because I’m against the death penalty, but that’s a part of the world I live in,” said Shena Burgess, one of Watts’ public defenders.
Clark Brewster, who is handling England’s defense pro bono, said he still held “some degree of hope” for his client despite Friday’s announcement.
“We’ll be very, very well prepared and very careful in our defense of this young man,” Brewster said. “He’s only 20 years old. I never think killing is a good idea, on either side.”
The shootings happened in a predominantly black section of Tulsa — not far from where one of the nation’s worst race riots happened more than 90 years ago — and all five victims were black.
Authorities have said England may have targeted black people because he wanted to avenge the death of his father, who was shot by a black man in 2010. But England, who describes himself as Cherokee Indian, has said he has no ill will toward black people.
The senior pastor at the First Baptist Church North Tulsa, where civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke in the days following the shootings, said the trial will provide “some sense of satisfaction.”
“Obviously, it won’t bring back those who unfortunately perished, but I’m just happy to see justice and two young men being brought to trial,” Anthony Scott said.
At a hearing in July, England’s uncle testified that England and Watts treated the mass shootings as a contest. Timothy Hoey said Watts told him a day after the killings that Watts and England each shot two people and England shot the fifth victim “that would break the tie,” Hoey said.
Hoey also testified that the day after the shootings, England used racial slurs to describe whom they shot. During that emotional testimony, England and Watts were stone-faced, sometimes looking down at the floor.
Cindy Wilde, the mother of England’s ex-girlfriend, said Friday she had hoped prosecutors would seek life in prison for England instead of capital punishment. But, she added, she’s turned everything “over to the Lord” because she can’t bear wrestling with the crimes England is accused of committing anymore.
“That’s the only way I can get on with my life is to give it up to Him,” she said. “I can’t deal with it. It’s God’s choice on what happens now.”