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Two sentenced in Oklahoma City to 10 years in meth death

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Two men have each been sentenced to 10 years in prison for a methamphetamine fire that caused the death of a 41-year-old Oklahoma City man.

Tommy Carl Yates Jr., 43, of Valley Brook, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder for the December 2002 death of Morris White, 41. Yates' co-defendant, Terry Lee Walker, 28, of Oklahoma City, was found guilty last week of second-degree murder.

They originally were charged with first-degree murder, but the charge was reduced in a legal dispute over an arson law that was amended by legislators three years ago to include fires caused by the manufacture or attempted manufacture of methamphetamine.

Oklahoma County prosecutor Nathan Dills said officials believed legislators intended for the arson law to permit a charge of first-degree murder if somebody is killed because of an accidental methamphetamine fire.

But defense attorney Marco Palumbo said the statute does not make it clear that a first-degree murder charge can be filed without proof the fire was intentional.

District Judge Tammy Bass-Jones agreed, ruling prosecutors had to prove the fire was set under willful and malicious circumstances.

``Knowing that that was her ruling, we could not prove that, so we had to basically amend the charge,'' Dills said.

Palumbo said he thinks prosecutors will lobby lawmakers to amend the statute. But he said he disagrees with the idea of a first-degree murder charge carrying extreme penalties based on an accidental event.

Court records show Yates, Walker and Morris were manufacturing methamphetamine in a trailer. White caught fire when some of the chemicals spilled and Walker knocked over a lantern.

Palumbo said prosecutors had considered seeking the death penalty and at one point offered a plea deal that included a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors offered Yates a plea deal with a 10-year sentence after Walker's jury set his punishment at 10 years, Dills said.
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