Race Affecting Case, Murder Suspect's Mother Says

Sunday, June 7th 2009, 5:36 pm
By: News On 6

By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The mother of a black teen charged with first-degree murder says racism is the reason her son is being tried as an adult.

Stephanie Colbert says speaking out Sunday was a difficult decision, but she's worried her son is facing a stacked deck in the courtroom because of his race.

"He's a juvenile," Colbert said. "I want him treated as a juvenile. I want this in juvenile courts."

Colbert is the mother of 17-year-old Theo Fleming, who is charged in the April shooting death of 18-year-old Kaitlyn Finnegan.

"I do believe it was an accident," Colbert said. "Theo would never, ever intentionally hurt anyone. He's a good person with a very good heart."

Colbert took part in a news conference charging racial bias in the decision to try Theo as an adult. Theo is black, while Finnegan, a senior at Bishop Kelley, was white.

Colbert says Theo would constantly talk about Finnegan, and he was often at home messaging her on MySpace.

"That was his friend," Colbert said. "They were close. They spent a lot of time together. They had constant contact with each other."

Colbert visits Theo once a week in jail. She says that's all she's allowed.

"He's pretty torn up about it," Colbert said.

Before confessing to an accidental shooting, records show Fleming initially lied to police. Colbert says her son was scared and didn't know what to do.

"It's something that Theo will have to live with for the rest of his life," Colbert said.

Community activist Twan Jones says racial bias exists within the Tulsa criminal justice system.

"When a black male is arrested, he is three times more likely to be sentenced and go to jail when they go to court," Jones said.

Colbert questions why the only one facing criminal charges is her African-American son.

"Out of numerous people in that house, Theo is the only one incarcerated," she said.

Tulsa District Attorney Tim Harris released a statement, saying race is never a factor in the decision to file charges, only the evidence.

He says physical evidence and witness testimony point to a premeditated act.

Fleming will be in court for his preliminary hearing Tuesday. The hearing will determine whether there's enough evidence for a trial to take place.

4/4/2009  Related Story: Bishop Kelley Senior Shot To Death

4/6/2009  Related Story: Bishop Kelley Students Remember Kaitlyn

4/6/2009  Related Story: Faith Helps Parents Cope With Daughter's Death

4/7/2009  Related Story: Attorney Says Student's Death Was An Accident

4/8/2009  Related Story: Bishop Kelley Senior Laid To Rest

4/13/2009  Related Story: Tulsa Teen Charged With 1st Degree Murder