Tucker McGee sentence remains in limbo
Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday vetoed Senate Bill 1221 which could have impacted Tucker McGee’s resentencing for the 2012 murder of JaRay Wilson.
McGee was found guilty in 2015 of first-degree murder with malice aforethought by a jury which recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole. District Judge Doug Haught, who had presided over the trial, formally sentenced McGee in accordance with the jury’s wishes.
But in December of 2016, by a 3-2 vote, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to the District Court in Custer County for resentencing. That was because McGee was 10 days short of his 18th birthday when the murder was committed.
The resentencing will include a new trial for sentencing purposes only, not for determining guilt or innocence.
A pre-trial hearing had been scheduled May 7 but at the request of District Attorney Angela Marsee, it was continued by Judge Haught to May 25. Mrs. Marsee had asked for extra time to see what Governor Fallin would do with S.B. 1221.
Marsee declined comment yesterday to the Clinton Daily News about the governor’s action. She indicated she would speak after the pre-trial is complete.
The day before the governor’s veto, though, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a life-without-parole sentence for another man who like McGee was 17 when he murdered someone in 1994. As in the McGee case, the Appeals Court did not overturn that conviction either – only the sentence, also sending it back to the District Court for resentencing.
That individual was Robert Adkins Stevens, now 41. His victim, Johnny Lawrence, was found shot to death near Piedmont. Reporter Kyle Schwab of News Oklahoma said Lawrence was 25 at the time of his death and reportedly a member of a rival gang to the one Stevens was in.
Stevens pled guilty as part of a plea agreement and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Schwab said prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty in that case.
But last year Stevens too appealed his life-without-parole sentence, contending it was unconstitutional because of recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that juveniles should not be sentenced to life in prison without parole unless they had been found to be incapable of rehabilitation. The ruling Thursday by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals was that a district judge had erred by denying Stevens’ application for post-conviction relief.
The Oklahoman reported that S.B. 1221, the one Governor Fallin vetoed, would have mandated that only a judge could decide whether juveniles could be sentenced to life without parole. “The jury’s work would be finished once guilt or innocence is determined,” the Oklahoma City newspaper said in an editorial questioning whether life-without-parole is ever justified for a juvenile.
It concluded, “Instead of asking judges to determine whether a teen killer should spend the rest of his or her life locked up, the Legislature . . . should eventually look to move away from life without the possibility of parole for juveniles and toward a more humane approach.”
S.B. 1221 was pushed in the Legislature by Mrs. Marsee’s father, State Rep. Harold Wright (R-Weatherford). However, he and the District Attorneys Council supposedly ended up asking the governor to veto it because of the Appeals Court’s decision in the Stevens case.
“We said we need to just go ahead and kill our bill because it’s not going to pass the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals,” District Attorney Jason Hicks was quoted as telling Oklahoma Watch. Hicks is the D.A. for Caddo, Grady, Jefferson and Stephens counties and was a co-counsel with Mrs. Marsee in the successful prosecution of road rage killer Jeremy Hardy last year.