By Mike Smith
CNHI News Service
An attorney for the alleged triggerman in the fatal drive-by shooting in Duncan discounted evidence against his client Monday, saying it is based solely on unreliable testimony of another teen in the case.
Jim Berry, who was appointed to represent 16-year-old Chancey Luna, also said he will seek a change of venue in the case because of all the publicity in Duncan and elsewhere.
“The only alleged evidence they (prosecutors) have is the uncorroborated testimony of an alleged accomplice, and his credibility is very suspect,” said Berry, who handles many criminal defense cases in Stephens County through the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.
Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks declined to comment on Berry’s statements.
Albert Hoch Jr., an attorney in Oklahoma City who handles some public defender cases, has been appointed to represent 15-year-old James Edwards Jr.
According to Hoch and Berry, Sue Taylor likely will represent Michael Dewayne Jones, 17. Taylor is an attorney in Comanche and a former assistant district attorney for the area.
Luna and Edwards are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 16 drive-by shooting death of 22-year-old Christopher Lane of Australia. Prosecutors say Luna is the one who pulled the trigger, firing a .22-caliber bullet into Lane’s back as he jogged along Country Club Road, while Edwards was a front-seat passenger.
Prosecutors say Jones was driving and tried to cover up the crime. He is charged with use of a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and accessory to murder after the fact.
Not guilty pleas were automatically entered for the defendants last week, with bond denied for Luna and Edwards and set at $1 million for Jones. Police and prosecutors say Jones was the only one who cooperated with them in their investigation, which is ongoing.
Hoch said he talked with Edwards briefly Monday, but he declined further comment because a judge is considering whether to issue a so-called “gag order” in the case prohibiting prosecutors and defense attorneys from saying things publicly about the case.
Berry said he has communicated with Luna and his family, and nothing precludes them from hiring their own private attorney in the coming days and weeks. But for now he is Luna’s lawyer.
Berry said Luna is innocent unless and until the state can prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Just getting them on camera and calling them thugs is not evidence,” Berry said. “That’s as far as they (prosecutors) 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.”
Hicks has repeatedly referred to the three as thugs and said his focus and motivation in prosecuting the crime is to ensure justice is done for Lane, who he said was picked out randomly as a target.
Police Chief Danny Ford has said the three teens are gang member wannabes who likely were trying to elevate their status as such. He said Jones told officers they did the shooting because they were bored and just wanted to kill somebody.
But Berry said the probable cause affidavit filed in the case is silent about that claim.
“I don’t see anything in there that suggests anyone said such a thing,” he said.
Berry said the teens have been charged separately and likely will be tried separately “unless the state moves to consolidate them.”
Berry said he already plans to seek a change of venue for his client to have the case moved out of Stephens County to elsewhere in Oklahoma. Not only has publicity been extensive in Duncan, he said, but also in Lawton, El Reno and Oklahoma City.
“I don’t think he can get a fair trial anywhere in the state of Oklahoma, and because of the national publicity, it’s going to be hard to get any venue” that is fair, he said.
Berry said his client and the other two 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, but it seems like the media and the prosecutors and the police personnel have swept the presumption of evidence under the rug,” he said.
MIKE SMITH writes for the Duncan Banner.