Info from 1974 case may be used if needed, judge says

Friday, March 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Prosecutors will be allowed to use evidence of a 1974 manslaughter conviction if there is a sentencing stage in the trial of a man charged with dismembering a teen-ager.

Wayne Henry Garrison is scheduled to go to trial next week in the killing of 13-year-old Justin Wiles of Tulsa. The boy disappeared June 20, 1989, and parts of his body were found four days later along a lake in Wagoner County.

Garrison, 41, has maintained he is innocent. He faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

On Thursday, Tulsa County District Judge Jesse Harris denied a motion to exclude evidence of the prior manslaughter conviction against Garrison. The conviction stemmed from the suffocation of a 3-year-old boy in May 1974, when Garrison was 14.

Defense attorney Art Fleak argued that police questioned Garrison improperly at a juvenile center and that ``there never would have been a conviction if they hadn't violated his rights.''

Fleak called the prior conviction ``constitutionally infirm.''

But First Assistant District Attorney Steve Sewell said the manslaughter conviction was ``never overturned and never appealed.''

And Harris said his review of the docket sheet in the 1974 case showed no indication of ``procedural irregularities.''

Records show that Garrison originally was charged with second-degree murder, but that the charge was reduced in a September 1975 plea agreement. Garrison, then 16, pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Prosecutors cannot introduce evidence of the prior manslaughter conviction during the innocence-or-guilt stage of the murder trial if Garrison does not take the witness stand.

Prosecutors want to use evidence of that conviction in order to support their allegation that Garrison is a ``continuing threat to society,'' which is a statutory basis to support a death sentence.