Governor signs murder victim photo bill

Wednesday, April 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Betty LaGrange bowed her head and choked back tears Tuesday as Gov. Frank Keating signed legislation named after LaGrange's slain daughter that will permit jurors at murder trials to see photographs of victims as they appeared in life.

Keating signed the Kristie LaGrange Act into law during a ceremony honoring victims and witnesses of violent crime. State officials praised the work of victims' rights advocates and said more needs to be done.

``It's just good government to take care of victims and witnesses. It's just the right thing to do,'' said former Attorney General Mike Turpen, who campaigned for victims' rights.

``It's our jobs to make sure that the victims and witnesses of this state don't become forgotten people,'' Turpen said.

Kristie LaGrange's parents, John and Betty LaGrange, and other members of her family gathered around Keating as he penned his name on the measure. The LaGranges were instrumental in developing and promoting the measure.

``For the sake of future victims and in the memory of Kristie LaGrange, thanks for making this possible,'' Keating said.

The measure's author, Minority Leader Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, said the new law guarantees that murder victims are afforded the same right that is guaranteed to every other victim of crime _ presence in the courtroom.

Morgan said Oklahoma judges have been reluctant to admit murder victims' photos out of concern that defense attorneys would argue that they unfairly prejudice jurors against the defendant.

``This is a change in that law. It's a much-needed change,'' Morgan said.

Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott said the legislation will change the way murder trials are conducted.

``I think it will be a significant change in the way prosecutors present their case and a huge difference in the way jurors are allowed to view the victim,'' Elliott said.

He said the new law must still withstand scrutiny from appellate courts that will eventually be asked to determine if it is constitutional.

Kristie LaGrange was a 26-year-old home-based family therapist who was beaten to death with a brick by one of her clients in July 2000.

The defendant, James McCall Chance, 18, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last month and accepted an agreement to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.