Death penalty possible for drug dealers
A court filing last week in Tulsa received considerable publicity when an alleged drug dealer was charged with first-degree murder for selling heroin to a 19-year-old girl that resulted in her death.
Attorney General Mike Hunter was hoping it would remind other dealers that premeditation is not required for a first-degree murder charge – that if someone dies from an illegal act someone else has committed, such as selling drugs, the perpetrator can still be charged with murder even if there was no intent to cause death.
Custer County District Attorney Angela Marsee and her staff are certainly aware of that.
In 2007 a young Weatherford man was charged with first-degree murder after a methadone pill he had provided to one of his friends resulted in the friend’s death. The provider was initially charged with second-degree murder, but after a hearing then-Special District Judge Jill Weedon raised it to first-degree murder.
That case ended with no conviction, though, because it was dropped when the accused himself died before a conclusion could be reached.
Dennis Smith was the district attorney then. Mrs. Marsee was on his staff, but the case was prosecuted by Assistant D.A. Ricky McPhearson who is now her first assistant D.A.
In the Tulsa case, Attorney General Hunter was quoted in The Oklahoman as saying, “I hope this first-degree murder charge sends a message to drug dealers who sell poison to the men, women and children of Oklahoma. We in law enforcement are coming after you to hold you accountable for the anguish and suffering that you are inflicting on Oklahomans.”
Mrs. Marsee told the Clinton Daily News, “Anytime we have an investigation we look at the facts and circumstances and try to apply the appropriate charge. We do continue to have a significant drug problem and if the problems are not addressed, we know that ultimately the most direct consequence could be someone’s death.”
Hunter’s director of communications, Terri Watkins,
was asked by the Daily News Thursday what the penalty could be in the Tulsa case. “It’s a possible death-penalty case,” she said.
She also said her boss authored the bill being used to prosecute the Tulsa case when he was in the Oklahoma Legislature in the 1990s.
“They’ve had a pretty nasty drug problem up there,” she said, referring to Tulsa.
Then she added, “Our only involvement in this case was to provide the Safe Oklahoma Grant that led to a series of arrests including this one. The case will be tried in Tulsa by the Tulsa County district attorney.”
The Safe Oklahoma Grants were created by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2012 and are awarded through the Attorney General’s Office to local law enforcement agencies, including sheriff’s offices.
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said one of the grants awarded to his department allowed him “to put more boots on the ground.” He said it funded nearly 1,500 hours of overtime over the past year to combat criminal activity in his city.
The victim in the case discussed this week was Jillian Searle, 19. Tulsa police said suspect Ryan Rogers, 29, who’s now charged with first-degree murder, had sold her a gram of heroin the day before her death. She was found by her mother unconscious in her Tulsa home on March 21.
Tulsa County First Assistant District Attorney Erik Grayless told the Tulsa World he looks for his office to file more cases of this type.
“Too often, we’ve talked with drug dealers . . . and looked at them only as people who sell drugs,” he said. “But if your drugs produce the death of another, we’re not going to call you a drug dealer anymore. We’re going to call you a murderer. That’s what you are, and that’s what you did.
“The overdose deaths from heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs are becoming a rampant scourge in our society.”
Custer County’s case 11 years ago that Mrs. Marsee referred to was investigated by sheriff’s deputies Steve Moss and Kenneth Tidwell, who is now the sheriff. Information in that case indicates the victim, an 18-year-old boy, was provided eight methadone tablets double the strength of what he had been using, and was not told that they were any different.
He spent the night with friends and was found dead the next morning, June 8, 2007, due to a “methadone overdose.”
Judge Weedon raised the charge from second-degree murder against Joel Boyer, 22, to first degree on March 25, 2008, but the charge was dismissed four months later for the following reason: “Defendant deceased.”