US teens ordered to trial in Aussie player death

2014-03-13 10:14
In this photo shot through a courtroom door, defendant Michael Jones is led from the courtroom in Duncan. (File, AP)

In this photo shot through a courtroom door, defendant Michael Jones is led from the courtroom in Duncan. (File, AP)

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Oklahoma - A judge ruled on Wednesday that two teenagers charged with first-degree murder must face a trial in the shooting death of an Australian baseball player.

Prosecutors say a third suspect will testify against them.

Police and prosecutors say the boys targeted Christopher Lane, aged 22, last August as a way to overcome a boring summer afternoon. Chancey Luna, aged 16, and Michael Dewayne Jones, aged 18, were ordered to stand trial, while prosecutors said James Francis Edwards Jr, aged 16, will testify against them and be charged with a lesser crime.

The preliminary hearing for Luna and Jones had been delayed last month after a witness asked to be represented by an attorney.

Edwards testified at the earlier hearing that he was rolling marijuana cigarettes in the front passenger seat when Luna fired the fatal shot from the back while Jones drove. Edwards testified that Luna and Jones both said they had believed the gun used in the killing held blanks, not a live round.

Felt betrayed

Prosecutors last month charged Edwards as an accessory after the fact. According to court documents, Edwards made a phone call from the Stephens County Jail between 16 August and 31 December 2013, and asked someone to dispose of the weapon.

Edwards testified last month that he later learned the gun was disposed of but said he does not know where the weapon is. He is due back in court in May for a preliminary hearing for that charge.

Prosecutors have said they will drop the first-degree murder charge in exchange for him continuing to testify against the other two teenagers through trial.

In other testimony on Wednesday, another teenager took the stand but repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to keep silent when asked about his conversations with the suspects.

Also, a sheriff's office dispatcher who said she overheard Jones while he was in custody say that they tried to "kill others and kept missing".

Heather George corrected her testimony when a lawyer for Jones pointed out that a typed statement she made immediately after the alleged incident read "shoot others but we kept missing".

A gag order prevents lawyers and others from discussing the case outside of court, and two lawyers for Luna were charged with contempt of court shortly after Wednesday's hearing.

Prosecutors say Jim Berry and Howard Berry broke the gag order last month when they spoke with media outside the courtroom. They have both pleaded not guilty.

Family members for all three teenagers left without comment after the ruling. Prior to the court hearing, Jennifer Luna, Chancey's mother, said she felt betrayed by Edwards, who she said once lived with her and who she treated like a son.

"I was mad. I was heated," she said when she learned Edwards was testifying against her son. Luna said she believes both her son and Jones are innocent.

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- AP
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