Murder, Hate Crime Charges in Shootings That Left 3 Dead in Mostly Black Tulsa Neighborhood
Two men accused of going on a shooting spree that terrorized Tulsa’s predominantly black north side face murder and hate crime charges, prosecutors said Friday in an announcement praised by community leaders who had called for swift action by authorities.
Jake England, 19, and his roommate, Alvin Watts, 33, each were charged with three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of shooting with intent to kill and five counts of malicious harassment, prosecutors said. The harassment counts allege the victims were targeted because of their race.
“I think that it’s an embrace, a symbolic embrace of the serious nature of the crime,” said Democratic State Rep. Seneca Scott of Tulsa, who attended a Friday meeting with area ministers and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “Sad as it is, it’s a real victory for justice.”
Jackson planned to stay in Tulsa for a community gathering Saturday, while the Rev. Al Sharpton announced after the charges were filed that he would cancel plans to travel to the city for a Sunday rally but would visit with victims’ families another time.
Police say England and Watts, arrested early Sunday after a two-day manhunt, have confessed and appeared to have chosen five random victims. Three died and two others were wounded. All the victims were black and police have said one motive might have been England’s desire to avenge his father’s fatal shooting by a black man two years ago.
Defense attorney Clark Brewster, who said he has agreed to represent England at the request of England’s mother, said Friday that it’s “a misplaced premise that he was motivated by any racial hate.”
Brewster said “the facts that people are throwing about” need to be proven in court. He said how England pleads will depend on where the case stands at the point when he’s asked to do so, which could be several weeks away.
Court documents do not list an attorney for Watts and efforts to reach him by phone at the Tulsa County Jail, where both men are being held without bond, were unsuccessful Friday. Both men are to be arraigned Monday.
First-degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison in Oklahoma. Prosecutors said decisions about whether to seek the death penalty are usually made after a preliminary hearing. A first conviction under the state’s malicious harassment law — which applies in cases where a victim is specifically targeted because of race, religion, ancestry, natural origin or disability — carries up to a year in jail.
“Filing charges is the first step to obtain justice for the victims and their families,” said Doug Drummond, Tulsa County First Assistant District Attorney. “This is a tragic and senseless crime.”