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Tulsa shootings: Suspects appear in court as probe continues

April 09, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • The north Turley, Okla., home of shooting suspects Alvin Watts, 32, and Jake England, 19, north of Tulsa.
The north Turley, Okla., home of shooting suspects Alvin Watts, 32, and… (Joey Johnson/The Tulsa…)

Houston —

Two men held in connection with the recent Tulsa shootings that killed three black residents and wounded two others made their initial court appearance Monday, as officials continued to investigate whether the crimes were racially motivated.

Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, appeared in Tulsa County District Court on Monday via closed-circuit video from Tulsa jail, officials told The Times. Their arraignment was postponed until 9 a.m. April 16 to give prosecutors time to review the charges. Those charges include three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of shooting with intent to kill and a single complaint of possession of a firearm while committing a felony, court staff told The Times.

The pair, who police said shared a house north of the city in Turley, Okla., did not speak during the hearing before Special District Judge Bill Hiddle, court staff said. The hearing lasted only a few minutes.

Each had their bail set at more than $9.2 million, according to court records.

The pair do not have lawyers yet and are being held in segregation at the jail, separate from each other, Tulsa Sheriff's Sgt. Shannon Clark told The Times.

Police arrested the men early Sunday after receiving an anonymous tip and mounting a manhunt that involved local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI.

One woman and two men were killed in the shootings on Tulsa's predominantly black north side: Dannaer Fields, 49, Bobby Clark, 54, and William Allen, 31. Two other people were wounded in the shootings.

It was still not clear Monday whether the shootings were racially motivated, police said. England’s recent Facebook posts indicated he was distraught about the shooting death of his father at the hands of a black man two years ago.

“It’s up to the prosecutors, whether it be the D.A.’s office or the U.S. attorney’s, what the charges will be,” Tulsa police spokesman Jason Willingham told The Times. “I don’t think we have enough information at this time to say it’s a hate crime.”

Thomas Scott Woodward, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, told The Times on Monday that his office was still investigating whether to charge the men.

“That decision has not been made as of yet,” Woodward said. “There are discussions ongoing. If we were to pursue it, it would be pursuant to … the federal hate crime statute” and possibly federal firearms laws, he said.

A spokeswoman for Tulsa County Dist. Atty. Tim Harris' office did not return calls Monday.

“They are going to look over all the information and decide then what the charges will be,” Clark, the sheriff's spokesman, said after hearing Harris speak outside the jail Monday. “The district attorney said he was going to look at the totality of the evidence before him and if there was enough to tag this as a hate crime, he would do that.” 

There were no third-party witnesses to the shootings, and although one of the surviving victims gave a "vague description" of a white male suspect, Willingham said, investigators did not have much to go on.

Friends have said England is Cherokee, and although he has listed himself as American Indian in the past, he identified himself as white on his arrest report, Willingham said.

Police seized a gun and a truck in connection with the men, Willingham said. The truck was recovered -- burned -- in nearby Osage County. Willingham declined to specify the gun's caliber. He said police were still investigating Monday whether the pair acted alone.  

“Our lab will be doing tests and of course the FBI will be doing ballistics tests for us,” Willingham said. “It’s our responsibility making sure there are no other additional suspects out there, either who aided in the shooting or after the fact.”

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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