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State appeals court reverses conviction in shooting

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Another courtroom setback has a relative of a murdered Muldrow rancher wondering whether anyone will be held accountable for the shooting.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday reversed the conviction of a man who had admitted killing Jason Wilson in September 1996.

"I know we have to have our justice system to protect people's rights, but Jason's rights weren't protected in that pasture that day," Wilson's uncle, James Trammell, told the Tulsa World.

The court ruled that the first-degree murder conviction against James Charles Childress in Sequoyah County was in error because the judge did not allow the jury to also consider second-degree murder as an option at the 1997 trial.

Childress was sentenced to death for killing Wilson, 21, who was shot when he confronted three men after they shot and began to butcher one of his calves.

"Because we agree with appellant that the trial court committed error when it refused his requested instructions on second-degree felony murder, appellant's conviction for first-degree malice aforethought murder must be reversed and remanded for a new trial," appeals court Presiding Judge Charles Johnson wrote.

The court upheld Childress' conviction on a charge of larceny of a domestic animal. He was sentenced to 10 years on that count.

Childress admitted in a tape-recorded statement that he shot Wilson because he was afraid of Wilson, according to records. Childress and two other men who had been drinking together that day drove to Wilson's property and shot a calf.

Two second-degree murder trials against another defendant, Floyd Harlow, have ended with deadlocked juries. The same charge against defendant Dalton Hickman was dismissed last year because of errors in a search warrant.

"I feel very, very sad about the whole thing," Trammell said. "I can hardly talk about it."

He said the most galling thing is the reversal for Childress, who admitted being the shooter in Wilson's death.

"I shot the guy," Childress told his Sequoyah County jury three years ago. "He confessed to it right in front of the good Lord and everybody," Trammell said.

Assistant District Attorney Darrell Dowty, who prosecuted all three men, vowed to retry Childress on a first-degree murder charge and again seek the death penalty.

He complained that the appeals court is using a 1999 case dealing with the instructions of second-degree murder -- Shrum vs. the State of Oklahoma -- as precedent for striking down other first-degree murder convictions.

"That case changed the law in Oklahoma with regard to giving instructions on second-degree murder," Dowty said. "They have applied it retroactively."

As for any error in jury instructions the first time around, Dowty said everything was done lawfully at the time of the 1997 trial.

"The judge followed the law as it was," he said. The Court of Criminal Appeals "has changed the law and applied it to all cases on direct appeal."
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