Plea Bargains For Tulsa Killers: Is The Justice System Soft On Crime?

Thursday, October 15th 2009, 9:57 pm
By: News On 6

By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6

TULSA COUNTY -- Three murder suspects in Tulsa County have recently gotten sentences for one year, four years and 30 years. That has some people wondering if the justice system is being soft on crime.

Durayco Fox had been charged with murder, but pleaded no contest to manslaughter and in exchange, got a four year sentence. The victim, Eric Bell, was shot and killed in December of 2007.

Prosecutors say a witness refused to show up and others refused to come forward, which is common in cases where gangs are suspected. They figured four years was better than nothing.

"What we found is Mr. Bell had been shot and was lying on the dance floor of the club while people were dancing around him as police and medical personnel tried to get to him, people were oblivious," said Steve Kunzweiler, Tulsa County Assistant DA. "You have this in a crowded nightclub and not one person saw what happened? How do you prosecute a crime like that?"

Durayco Fox's attorney doesn't think the sentence is light, because he doesn't believe Fox is guilty, but they were afraid to risk it with a jury.

"All things considered, it was really the only choice that made the most sense," said John Byrd, Fox's attorney.

10/14/2009  Related Story: Tulsa Nightclub Shooter Pleads Before His Jury Trial Began

John Beato killed a man who he claimed was sexually assaulting him. Prosecutors asked for 10 years in prison, but the judge gave Beato one year in jail. Prosecutors say knowing the facts and being able to prove them in court, are very different.

"A disposition of what the public might perceive as a light sentence, the alternative sometimes is zero," said Steve Kunzweiler.

9/22/2009  Related Story: Man Charged In Tulsa Murder Pleads Guilty To Manslaughter

The third case involved Jerry Morgan shooting and killing Dominque Burdine at a motel in 2007. Prosecutors say they got a hung jury at the first trial, so offered Morgan a deal of 30 years.

Police say they understand the challenges, but when people on the streets hear a killer isn't going away for life, it's that much harder to get them to talk.

"We have enough trouble with no snitch and people not taking responsibility to do the right thing. We need to send a real strong message that you're not going to do this in Tulsa, Oklahoma," said Sgt. Mike Huff, Tulsa Police Major Crimes.

Prosecutors say they can't send that message unless citizens send it first, by getting involved when they witness a crime.

Watch the featured video to hear Tulsa County's Steve Kunzweiler talk in depth about what it takes to prosecute some of these cases.