Court Rules Fleeing Police Is Not a Sign of Guilt

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The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled juries may not consider whether a defendant flees police to determine whether he is guilty, which could have "enormous" impact on cases, a prosecutor says.

Tulsa County District Attorney David Moss said the appeals court's 3-2 ruling, issued this week, could result in new trials for at least two high-profile, convicted killers.

Corey Hamilton was handed four death sentences last month in the slayings of four restaurant workers during a 1990 robbery, and Lonnie Richie was sentenced to die for the 1991 abduction and hanging of a Tulsa housewife.

Moss said that if the court applies its ruling, "then Corey Hamilton gets a new trial. Lonnie Richie gets a new trial. They've opened a real can of worms. They've changed the rules on us."

"I can't think of a decision we've had that puts as many (convictions) in jeopardy," said Moss' chief prosecutor, Tom Gillert.

Moss said his office will appeal the ruling, which reversed the 1989 robbery conviction of Gregory Mitchell of Tulsa. Mitchell's attorney, assistant public defender Berry Derryberry, had argued that allowing jurors to consider Mitchell's flight from police infringed upon his legal presumption of innocence.

"Thank God, the court has finally seen the light," Tulsa County public defender Johnie O'Neal said. "This is as fundamental as the presumption of innocence. It's that important."

Appeals Judge Charles Johnson said judges should tell jurors to consider a defendant's flight only when a defendant claims self-defense, testifies to explain his departure or otherwise implicates himself as being at the scene of the crime.

Such instructions "should be given only in cases where the evidence is controverted by the defendant, and as an exception rather than the rule."

Moss said the ruling also may mean new trials for three alleged gang members who were convicted in the slaying of a teen-age mother who was caught in their crossfire, and for a man convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to 3,220 years in prison. David Deupree Morgan has joined Hastie and Kirschner as a partner. He was a partner of Ames Ashabranner.

His practice will focus primarily on banking, commercial real estate and oil and gas law.

Monica Amis Wittrock has joined Hastie and Kirschner as an associate. She has been an attorney in Oklahoma City since 1982. She will practice primarily in the areas of banking and commercial law with an emphasis in foreclosure litigation. . . Joseph K. Lester, director of the University of Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, has been selected to attend the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. …