New Castle News

August 27, 2013

Little evidence to support murder charge against teens, lawyer says

Mike Smith
CNHI News Service

DUNCAN, Okla. — The lawyer for a teen accused of first-degree murder in the Aug. 16 drive-by shooting of a college student says the charge is based solely on the flimsy statement of another teen.

Jim Berry, appointed to represent Chancey Luna, 16, said he doubts his client can get a fair trial in Oklahoma given the publicity surrounding the case that has drawn international attention, in part because the victim was an Australian citizen.

“I don’t think he can get a fair trial anywhere in the state of Oklahoma," said Berry, "and because of the national publicity, it’s going to be hard to get any venue” that is fair.

Prosecutors say Luna fired the .22-caliber revolver that shot Christopher Lane, 22, as he was jogging. Lane, 22, would have been a senior at East Central University in Ada and was visiting his girlfriend in Duncan.

James Edwards Jr., 15, whom prosecutors say was riding in the front passenger seat as Luna fired from the back seat, also faces a first-degree murder charge.

Prosecutors say Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, was driving and tried to cover up the crime. Prosecutors say Jones is the only one who has cooperated in their investigation. He is charged as an accessory.

Albert Hoch Jr., the Oklahoma City attorney appointed to represent Edwards, declined comment because a judge is considering a “gag order” to prohibit prosecutors and defense attorneys from talking publicly about the case. But Berry, interviewed Monday, said the only evidence is Jones' "suspect" statements.

“Just getting them on camera and calling them thugs is not evidence,” Berry said in reference to Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks' descriptions. "That’s as far as they have got it, and that is not evidence. It’s totally uncorroborated testimony of an alleged accomplice — that of Jones — and that’s not credible.”

Berry also questioned police reports that Jones said the teens acted out of boredom when they targeted Lane at random. That's not mentioned in an affidavit filed in connection with the charges, he said.

Berry is planning to ask for the case to be moved from Stephens County to another courtroom in Oklahoma. He said the teens have been convicted “even before they’ve had their day in court.”

“I certainly express my condolences to the Lane family, and this is a tragedy," he said. "But it seems like the media and the prosecutors and the police personnel have swept the presumption of evidence under the rug."

Mike Smith is a reporter for The Duncan, Okla., Banner.