US shooting spree suspects arraigned

2012-04-16 22:13

Tulsa - A judge entered not guilty pleas on Monday for two men accused of going on a racially-motivated shooting spree in a predominantly black section of Tulsa this month, killing three people and wounding two others.

The early-morning shootings terrorised Tulsa's black community over Easter weekend.

Jake England and Alvin Watts appeared in Tulsa County District Court via closed-circuit television from jail, where they have been held since their arrests on Easter Sunday.

Special Judge William Hiddle assigned a lawyer to Watts - England already had a lawyer - and entered not guilty pleas for both to charges of first-degree murder, shooting with the intent to kill and malicious harassment in the April 6 attacks in Tulsa. The harassment counts imply the victims were targeted because they are black.

The first-degree murder counts are punishable by execution or life in prison, but prosecutors say they have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Police said England and Watts confessed after their arrests and said they chose the victims at random.

Authorities, who have described the pair as white, contend the two house mates targeted their victims because they believe England wanted to avenge his father's shooting death by a black man two years ago.

A day before the shootings, England apparently wrote a Facebook post saying that it was the second anniversary of his father's death, using a racial slur and lamenting that "it's hard not to go off".

A friend of England's said England is Cherokee and is not a racist.

Documents filed with the charges said anonymous callers to a police department hotline before the men were arrested claimed England was a racist who hated black men and that he "has mentioned he will die in a shoot-out with the police if he has to."

England's family and friends have said the death of his father and his girlfriend's January suicide sent him into a downward spiral.

Black leaders have called on prosecutors to bring hate crimes charges against the two. Jesse Jackson spoke with black leaders last week, while National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People President Benjamin Jealous visited Tulsa on Sunday and spoke at an event to raise money for the victims' families.

Oklahoma's malicious harassment law is a misdemeanor on the first offence and carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a $1 000 fine.

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