The Duncan Banner
The teenagers charged in the drive-by shooting death of an Australian man in Duncan were portraying themselves as gang bangers and likely trying to prove themselves as such, Duncan Police Chief Danny Ford said Thursday.
But Ford and Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks said they have no evidence the teens — ages 15, 16 and 17 — actually belonged to a known gang, and Hicks said to his knowledge there is no gang activity in Stephens County.
“They were wannabes from what they displayed,” Ford said. “They were individuals who liked attention and once they began portraying themselves as those types of individuals who might want to be in a gang — a wannabe type person — then they began to try to convince other people they were.”
Hicks said he has seen photographs of one of the teens — 15-year-old James Edwards Jr. — holding several different guns. But he said he had not seen news reports that Edwards, three days before the fatal shooting, had tweeted a line from a rap song saying in part “it’s time to start taking life’s.”
Regardless, Ford said the teens were trying to elevate the self-portrayal of themselves as gangsters.
“It’s the idea that, ‘I’m a gangster, you need to respect me, you need to give me attention, you need to be afraid of me,’” Ford said.
“The problem is when you market yourself, someone eventually begins to say, ‘Well, OK, if you’re really going to market yourself that way then demonstrate to us,’ and they feel like if it got to that situation they had to demonstrate to maintain the status they were trying to get.”
The teens are charged in the death of 22-year-old Christopher Lane of Australia, who was jogging along Country Club Road in Duncan last Friday when he was shot in the back with a .22-caliber pistol and left for dead.
Police say Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, was driving the car the teens were in that day and told officers later that they were bored and simply out to kill someone.
Edwards and Chancey Luna, 16, are each charged with first-degree murder while Jones is charged with use of a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and accessory after the fact to murder in the first degree.
Edwards and Luna could be sentenced up to life in prison without parole if convicted while Jones faces a maximum possible sentence of 90 years. Bond was denied for Edwards and Luna and set at $1 million for Jones, and automatic not guilty pleas were entered for them during a court appearance Tuesday.
Hicks said late Thursday afternoon that he had not been notified of the teens having attorneys yet.
Hicks also said he has not spoken to James Johnson, who police say called 911 about four hours after Lane was shot and said there were three youths with guns outside who wanted to kill someone.
That call from a residence at 111 W. Ash at 7:05 p.m. Friday led police to the nearby parking lot of Immanuel Baptist Church where the teens were apprehended.
Ford said Johnson later told detectives that the person the teens were out to harm was his son.
“We were told there was some sort of falling out between the boys,” Ford said.
An Australian newspaper quoted Johnson as saying that his son, Chris, 17, had been threatened on Facebook. He said the teens were out to kill his son because they were in the Crips gang and trying to recruit his son.
Efforts to contact James Johnson were unsuccessful Thursday. Sheila Haynes, Christopher’s mother, would not say where her son was but confirmed that he was no longer in the Duncan school system.
Hicks said police still have not found the gun used in the shooting.
But he did say that a house on Country Club Road where the teens were believed to be when they spotted Lane jogging by was the same one where at least three men charged in a series of armed robberies of convenience stores in Duncan last March had gathered.
He also said that his first priority has not been lost in all the media coverage of the shooting.
“My focus is with Christopher Lane and making sure we get justice for him,” he said. “All the attention has done nothing but motivate me even more to ensure these thugs get exactly what they deserve.”
Also Thursday, a woman who left Tuesday’s initial court hearings for the teens and yelled at television news crews who were filming her remained in the Stephens County Jail.
Sabetta Nicole Randall, 18, of Duncan, faces a misdemeanor charge of threatening to perform an act of violence and two felony counts of assault and battery on corrections personnel.
According to court affidavits, Randall screamed at the reporters on the second-floor lobby of the Stephens County Courthouse, shouting, “Get those f****** cameras out of my face or I will kill you.”
She was escorted down the stairwell and arrested and when taken to the jail kicked one detention officer in the face and dug her fingernails into the arms of another, according to the affidavit.
Bond was set at $1,000 on the misdemeanor charge and $7,500 on the assault charges.