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August 21, 2013

Teens charged in murder of Australian Chris Lane

DUNCAN — Prosecutors charged two teenagers with first-degree murder Tuesday and another teen with accessory to murder after it occurred in the drive-by shooting of an Australian man gunned down while jogging in Duncan.

Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks called all three Duncan teenagers “thugs” who had committed a completely random, senseless, appalling act last Friday in a community that had never seen such a crime.

He said one of the teens, while being booked into the Stephens County Jail after his arrest, danced about and was “kind of laughing and carrying on” as if everything was a joke.

Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Edwards Jr., 15, are charged with first-degree murder and will be tried as adults. They could face up to life in prison without parole if convicted, but because of their ages, they cannot be sentenced to death.

Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, was charged with use of a vehicle in the discharge of weapon and accessory to murder after the fact.

Jones could be subject to youthful offender provisions in Oklahoma law during any sentencing phase, but will be treated as an adult until that stage and could still be sentenced up to 45 years in prison.

Jones was the only teen who cooperated with authorities, but Hicks said he still would seek to have him sentenced as an adult if convicted.

Stephens County Special District Judge Jerry Herberger ordered Luna and Edwards held without bond and set bond at $1 million for Jones. If he meets bail and is released, he would have to wear a GPS tracking device.

Hicks said Luna pulled the trigger, shooting 22-year-old Christopher Lane in the back with a .22-caliber pistol while he was jogging along Country Club Road in Duncan. Jones was driving his car — a 2003 black Ford Focus — during the shooting, Edwards was in the front passenger seat and Luna was in the back, Hicks said.

Lane was in Oklahoma on a baseball scholarship at East Central University in Ada and had just returned to Duncan from his native Australia three days before he was killed. He was in Duncan staying with his girlfriend, Sarah Harper, and her family.

Hicks said the shooting could not have been more random and noted that one of the teens said they did it because they were bored.

“There is no connection that I’ve seen inside the investigation between these three and the victim in this particular case — no connection whatsoever,” Hicks said.

The teens were brought before Herberger separately to have the charges read. Automatic pleas of not guilty were entered for each.

Around 100 people packed Tuesday’s court hearing, many of them reporters from local, state, national and Australian news organizations. There were at least a dozen television stations on hand, and the media presence was so large the hearing was moved to a larger courtroom.

Luna was brought out first. Hicks said he was the triggerman and was too dangerous to free on bond. He also summarized the impact of the crime on Duncan.

“We live in a small community of 25,000 and we don’t ever see crimes like this — ever — and now we have,” Hicks told the judge. “I can’t imagine anything more appalling than something like this.”

Edwards was the second to appear and like Luna, looked down much of the time Herberger was explaining the charges and proceedings.

Jones was brought in last and told Herberger, “I didn’t pull the trigger.” The judge immediately cut him off, saying it was not the time to make such statements because the hearing was only to determine bond.

Hicks said authorities have videotape of Edwards “doing a little dance” as he was being booked following his arrest and said he was “cold and calloused” throughout the investigation.

He said Edwards, only about a half hour after the shooting occurred but before the teens were arrested, met with a juvenile probation officer at the Stephens County Courthouse on an unrelated matter. He was “right on time” for that, Hicks said.

The shooting has not only shocked people in Duncan and Oklahoma but in Australia as well, where Lane’s parents have spoken emotionally about the loss of their son.

“This is not something that is supposed to happen here and to our friends in Australia I would say to you this is not Duncan, Oklahoma, this is not Stephens County, Oklahoma, and this is not something we see happening here,” Hicks said.

Edwards’ father, James Edward Sr., told reporters that his son had been in trouble for some curfew violations but nothing anything serious. He said his son told him he did not shoot anyone but knew who did.

“He really doesn’t understand it at all,” Edwards Sr. said of the charges. “He really doesn’t understand how serious it was.”

He said his son was a good boy, very involved in football, basketball and wrestling and spent much of his time on a computer, playing guitar and running. Edwards Sr. said his heart went out to Lane’s family.

“A life has been lost and I regret that,” he said. “I am grieving the same way. They have my very deepest sympathies and I pray for them.”

Rachel Padilla, who said she was Edwards’ sister, said after the hearing that some people at the courthouse had acted with prejudice.

“I don’t feel it is fair that the two off-color boys did not receive a bond and that they are being judged as thugs and a threat to society, and the other young man got bond,” she said.

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