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Local News

June 18, 2014

Murder charge against Lane suspect dismissed

DUNCAN — A judge on Tuesday dismissed a first-degree murder charge against one of three suspects in the shooting death of Australian ballplayer Chris Lane after the district attorney said he lacked evidence against him.

  Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks requested that the first-degree murder charge against James Edwards Jr. be dismissed.

  Judge Jerry Herberger complied.

   Edwards, 16, remains charged as an accesory to the killing of Lane for allegedly helping hide the .22 caliber pistol used to kill the athlete as he jogged down a Duncan road the afternoon of Aug. 16.

    Because of his age, the accesory charge against Edwards will be handled in juvenile court, where all proceeding are private, but the D.A.  has filed a motion to have him certified as an adult.

    If Edwards faces the accessory charge as an adult defendant, he would face 5 to 45 years in prison,  providing  leverage prosecutors want to ensure the 16-year-old continues to cooperate in testifying against his two friends, who remain charged with first-degree murder.

    The dismissal of the murder charge against Edwards occurred on Tuesday afternoon at the defendant’s first preliminary hearing in which the state is required to prove  probable cause the defendant committed first-degree murder.

    After conferring privately in the judge’s chambers, Edwards, his attorney Al Hoke and Hicks appeared in court where Hicks told the judge he lacked evidence.

     “Our case is not strong enough to take him to trial,” Hicks told the judge.

    Edwards, dressed in orange jail attire with his ankles and hands shackled, had no reaction. His family and friends were not in the courtroom but were seated outside on benches.

    Lane’s girlfriend Sarah Harper and her family were  in the courtroom when the case was dismissed and left quietly without comment.

    Edwards was to appear before Judge G. Brent Russell to have his bond set, but because the case against him is now in juvenile court, where court records are sealed from the public, it is not known what his bond may have been set.

   Edwards has been kept incarcerated at the Comanche County Jail in Lawton while his codefendants, Chancey Luna and Michael Jones,  have been locked up at the Stephens County Courthouse.

  The first-degree murder trials of Luna and Jones are on the August trial docket but they are not expected to stand trial until sometime next year.

   Legal proceedings to have Edwards certified to stand trial as an adult on the charge of being an accessory to first-degree murder likely will take up to six months  if appeals are involved, which is likely.

   In his motion to dismiss the case against Edwards, Hicks noted there was no gunshot residue found on the defendant and there was no evidence he was involved in any “conspiracy” or other involvement in the killing of Lane.

   Evidence gathered since Lane’s death “tends to further implicate” Luna and Jones but “further casts doubt” Edwards was involved, except for his alleged role in concealing the gun, Hicks said in his dismissal motion.

   Edwards, an articulate 16-year-old, testified against Luna and Jones on behalf of the state during the pair’s preliminary hearing on Feb. 4.

    He told the court he was riding in the front passenger seat of a car driven by Jones while Luna was in the back seat.

    Edwards testified  he  was looking down while rolling a marijuana cigarette when he heard a gunshot from the backseat. He told the court a subsequent conversation between Luna and Jones after they sped away and parked indicated the two suspects didn’t think the pistol contained live ammunition.

    Attorneys for Luna and Jones have suggested the conversation shows the killing of Lane was not planned or deliberate but a  tragic mistake.

     Hicks called the shooting a random act committed by “thugs.”

     Duncan Police Chief Danny Ford said Jones, the oldest suspect of the trio, said the suspects were “bored” and decided to kill somebody for the “fun of it.”

    The death of Lane, who was in Oklahoma to play college baseball at East Central University in Ada, received intense news coverage across the country and in Australia.

    He died from a single gunshot wound to the back.

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