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PHILLIPS & ASSOCIATES Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorneys

Jay High School Girls’ Basketball Coach Accused of Inappropriate Relationship with Player

March 30th, 2015

Amid accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old girls’ basketball player, a Jay High School teacher and coach tendered his resignation from the school district on Friday. That same day, he was arrested and charged lewd molestation in Delaware County.

One interesting aspect of this case, and one that should serve as a warning to anyone who works with minors, is that the accuser in this case actually denies a sexual relationship between the two. She allegedly admitted only to kissing the coach, but not to any further sexual activity.

Despite the absence of allegations of sex between the coach and player, former Jay Public Schools teacher and basketball coach Cory Lyndon Henton, 38, is charged with two counts of lewd molestation involving the teen.

Reports say that rumors of favoritism and unusual closeness between the coach and player began swirling, and that those rumors came to a head after Spring Break, when the girl’s teammates told school officials that she had spent time in the coach’s hotel room during a basketball trip to Oklahoma City.

The girl allegedly admitted to investigators that she had gone to the coach’s room, where the two talked and kissed. Investigators say she told them that she returned to her own room, but when her roommates fell asleep, she returned to her coach.

Jay Public Schools officials suspended the coach pending an investigation, but before the school board could consider the man’s employment status, he resigned.

Although there are no allegations beyond kissing, the age of consent in Oklahoma is 16. No one younger than 16 may legally consent to sex or other physical sexual contact with an adult over 18. Because of this, and because state law forbids sexual activity between students and school district employees, the coach is charged with two counts of lewd molestation.

Lewd molestation, or lewd or indecent proposals or acts to a child under 16, is a broad statute that covers a range of acts involving minors–including even “looking upon” a child in a “lewd or lascivious manner.” This allows criminal charges for acts that fall short of stereotypical child molestation–as alleged in this case, a 15-year-old girl willingly kissing an adult.

Because of statutory prohibition of intimate relationships between students and teachers, even if the girl involved had been aged 16 or older, the allegations likely would have still led to a criminal charge of sexual battery:

“‘Sexual battery shall mean the intentional touching, mauling or feeling of the body or private parts of any person sixteen (16) years of age or older, in a lewd and lascivious manner . . . When committed upon a person who is at least sixteen (16) years of age and is less than twenty (20) years of age and is a student, or in the legal custody or supervision of any public or private elementary or secondary school, or technology center school, by a person who is eighteen (18) years of age or older and is an employee of the same school system that the victim attends” (21 O.S § 1123).

Misconstrued relationships, false allegations, and blurred lines can all lead to sex crime charges in Oklahoma. Finding a qualified sex crime defense lawyer is critical to fighting the charges.

 

Infographic: The Bill Cosby Scandal

March 26th, 2015

In recent weeks, all has been quiet on the Bill Cosby front. Since Chloe Goins became the first accuser whose allegations against the actor may fall within the statute of limitations for prosecuting Cosby, not much has happened.

Now, actress and comedian Chelsea Handler says that Bill Cosby tried to “Cosby” her.

Handler told Esquire magazine that she and Cosby were performing at the same Atlantic City hotel when she received word that Cosby wanted to see her in his room.

Thinking it was odd that a man she did not know personally wanted her to visit his room, she said she felt uncomfortable visiting alone. Instead, she went to his room accompanied by three other men.

When the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby came to light, one of the men who accompanied Handler that night pointed out that she could have been a victim if she had gone alone.

In light of Handler’s allegations that she believes she would have been sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby if she had gone to his room without accompaniment, the Cosby scandal has been refreshed.

We have compiled an infographic exploring details of the Cosby case and providing a timeline of allegations against the actor.

Bill Cosby Scandal

Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry Removal

March 23rd, 2015

Perhaps the harshest penalty associated with conviction of a sex crime is the sex offender registration that follows. Once a person has served any prison time, if sentenced to such, he or she must register as a sex offender for a period of time ranging from 15 years to life, depending upon the crime of which he or she was convicted.

In some cases, a person received no prison time for his or her conviction, but still must register for life. The stigma associated with conviction can be difficult to bear.

Capture

On a recent Oklahoma City metro area neighborhood Facebook page, a resident quickly notified other neighbors that a “new sex offender moved into the neighborhood.” Another neighbor pulled his picture from the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry website and posted it, along with his name and address, on the page.

One neighbor commented she looked up his registration and said, “He’s charged with second degree rape which I looked up and it is a little ambiguous on definition. . . . It sounds like it could be a violent rape to anyone over the age of to 12.”

Now the neighborhood has the name and address of someone they assume to be a violent rapist, when the facts do not support their belief at all.

In fact, the definition of second degree rape is not ambiguous at all. Second degree rape is statutory rape, or sex in which both parties consent to sex, but one of those parties is legally unable to provide consent. It is not violent or forcible rape, which is charged as first degree rape.

Further research into the man’s court records show that he was only 19 at the time of his conviction, which likely means that he was convicted of a sex crime for having a partner that was too young to consent to sex. He has since petitioned for removal from the sex offender registry, an act which shows that his crime was being slightly too old for his slightly-too-young partner.

Many people do not realize that sex offender registration removal is possible in Oklahoma; however, there are specific conditions under which a person convicted of a sex crime may be able to have his or her name removed from the Oklahoma sex offender registry.

Those convicted of “consensual” statutory rape must register as sex offenders for life–the same as habitual offenders, child rapists, and forcible rapists. This seems unfair that they are classified as high-risk offenders for sex with a willing partner who was legally precluded from providing consent.

Fortunately, under 57 O.S. § 590.2, certain people convicted of statutory rape may file a motion for removal from the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry. If a person is convicted of statutory rape, required to register as a result of that conviction, and has no other sex crime convictions, he or she may petition for removal if he or she “[w]as not more than four (4) years older than the victim of the violation who was fourteen (14) years of age or older but not more than seventeen (17) years of age at the time the person committed the violation.”

The state also allows two other methods for sex offender registration removal.

  • Level 1 sex offenders are required to register for a period of 15 years; however, if 10 years have passed since the completion of their sentence and they have not been in any other legal trouble, they may petition for removal
  • In 2013, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in Starkey v. Oklahoma Department of Corrections that a law passed in 2007 which lengthened sex offender registration could not be applied retroactively. This allowed thousands of sex offenders convicted prior to 2007 to be removed from the sex offender registry when their initial period of registration expired.

If you think you may qualify for Oklahoma sex offender registration removal as a Level 1 sex offender, a person convicted of statutory rape, or pursuant to Starkey, contact an attorney for more information.

OKC Man Accused of Soliciting Teen through Facebook

March 19th, 2015
Image Credit: Maria Elena

Image Credit: Maria Elena

The Canadian County Sheriff’s Office arrested an Oklahoma City man they say used Facebook to try to arrange sex with a 14-year-old girl.

Kelton Miller, 24, is accused of sending sexually explicit messages to a Sheriff’s deputy who was posing as a young teen on Facebook as part of an internet sex sting. Investigators say Miller sent images of his exposed genitals, messages detailing the sex he would like to have with the girl, and made arrangements to meet the teen for sex.

Once the arrangements were made, the Canadian County Sheriff’s Department made an arrest on complaints of online solicitation of a minor, lewd acts with a child under 16, marijuana possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In some states, people caught in internet “child predator” sex stings have attempted to challenge their charges, saying that they did not solicit a minor if the person with whom they were chatting online was actually an adult decoy. In most cases, these challenges have failed. In Oklahoma, the law is written in such a way as to invalidate this defense automatically.

Title 21 Section 1040.13a is the Oklahoma law against Soliciting Sexual Conduct or Communication with a Minor by Use of Technology, commonly referred to as online solicitation of a minor. Under this law, it is a felony to “facilitate, encourage, offer or solicit sexual conduct with a minor, or other individual the person believes to be a minor.”

Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force agents create false online profiles purporting to be minors. If an adult aged 18 or older begins to engage with someone he or she “believes to be a minor” from one of these fake profiles, he or she is arrested for soliciting a minor or lewd or indecent acts or proposals to a minor, even if there is no actual minor involved.

We have written before about how easy it becomes for an otherwise law-abiding person to become caught in an online sting if the undercover agents use manipulative tactics–and, indeed, they do.  In fact, some say that the strategies used in undercover “To Catch a Predator” type stings do not catch sex offenders, they create them.

Soliciting sexual conduct or communication with a minor by use of technology is a felony sex offense that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, even if no physical sexual contact occurs and even if there is no actual minor involved. It is a Level 2 sex offense, meaning that conviction requires a person to register as an Oklahoma Sex Offender every six months for 25 years.

Lewd or indecent acts or proposals to a child under 16, on the other hand, is a Level 3 sex offense that mandates lifetime sex offender registration.

Man Charged after Stabbing Pregnant Woman, Jumping from Bridge

March 16th, 2015

An altercation inside a vehicle led to an Oklahoma City man’s arrest after he stabbed his pregnant passenger before jumping from a bridge into the Oklahoma River.

Image Credit: Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office

Image Credit: Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office

Reports say Christian Jevon Hillard, 23, was riding in a vehicle with a woman Sunday afternoon when the two became involved in some type of dispute. The woman told police that after she stopped the vehicle on the side of the road, Hillard began stabbing her with a steak knife and continued to stab her after she exited the vehicle.

Witnesses driving along the interstate stopped to offer assistance to the woman, and Hillard leapt from a bridge into the Oklahoma River.

The man was pulled from the river, taken to a hospital and treated for his injuries, and then transported to the Oklahoma County Jail.

The woman sustained injuries to her arm, shoulder, finger, knee, and ear. She told police that she is eight months pregnant and that Hillard is not the father of her unborn child.

At the time of the alleged incident, Hillard was out of jail on bond after an arrest on two arson complaints earlier this month. He also remains on probation following a 2009 youthful offender conviction of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit a felony.

In that case, he entered a blind guilty plea and was sentenced to 12 years for armed robbery and 10 years for conspiracy with all suspended but the first 8 years and both sentences to run concurrently. According to Oklahoma Department of Corrections records, he was incarcerated from February 3, 2010 through July 16, 2014. He is to remain on probation for armed robbery through December 10, 2021; however, in light of the current charges against him, it would not be unusual for the district attorney to file a motion to revoke the suspended sentence and order him back to prison.

As of this writing, he is held in the Oklahoma County Jail on complaints of first degree arson and domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

First degree arson is defined by state law as “willfully and maliciously” setting fire to an occupied structure. It is also considered to be first degree arson if a person causes a fire or causes a person to be burned in the manufacture of a controlled substance, as in the case of a meth lab fire or explosion.

First degree arson is a felony punishable by a maximum of 35 years in prison.

Domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

 

 

 

 

Justice Safety Valve Act Passes Oklahoma House

March 12th, 2015
Image Credit: okhouse.gov

Image Credit: okhouse.gov

A bill that would allow judges greater discretion in sentencing despite the statutory imposition of mandatory minimum sentences is one step closer to becoming law.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed House Bill 1518, known as the Justice Safety Valve Act, by a vote of 17-16. It now moves on to the state Senate for consideration.

The Justice Safety Valve Act, sponsored by Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, is intended to reduce state prison overcrowding, particularly in cases where a mandatory minimum sentence is excessive and not in the best interest of justice. Seventeen other states have already passed similar legislation.

Oklahoma has one of the highest incarcerations rates in the United States–the third highest overall and the nation’s incarceration rate for women. By allowing the court the ability to deviate from a statutory mandatory minimum under certain circumstances, the Justice Safety Valve Act could alleviate the strain on Oklahoma prisons. The Oklahoma prison population has doubled over the past 25 years, increasing 13 percent in the last decade while prison staffing has decreased nearly 20 percent.

House Bill 1518 would create a new law that states that when sentencing a person for a crime that stipulates a mandatory minimum sentence, “the court may depart from the applicable sentence” if it finds “substantial and compelling reasons” that the mandatory minimum is not necessary for public safety and would be injustice for the person sentenced.

In order to deviate from the prescribed mandatory minimum, the judge must evaluate several aspects of the case, including the nature of the crime, the criminal history of the defendant, and the defendant’s chances of successful rehabilitation.

The court is not given discretion to deviate from mandatory minimums in all cases, however. Crimes which do not allow a judge to give a sentence less than the statutory mandatory minimum include the following:

  • Violent crimes listed in 57 O.S. § 571
  • Sex crimes requiring sex offender registration
  • Crimes involving the use of a firearm
  • “85 Percent Crimes” listed in 21 O.S. § 13.1
  • Drug trafficking
  • The defendant is the “leader, manager or supervisor of
    others in a continuing criminal enterprise”

One critic of the bill, Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, says that he opposes the bill because the justice reform would not be strict enough on criminals: “I’ve said I’m for reform, just not when it comes to violent offenders. Here we have repeat offenders. It’s a bad bill.”

But “repeat offenders” and “violent offenders” are not the same thing. If you get caught with a joint as an 18-year-old high school student, and again as a 22-year-old college student, that makes you a repeat drug offender. It does not make you a violent offender. Your chances for rehabilitation are likely pretty good if your only drug offenses were a couple of minor possession charges from your youth.

It can be tough for Oklahoma lawmakers to enact a law that seems to be less “tough on crime.” However, the Justice Safety Valve Act is not about becoming soft on criminals, but about allowing sentencing that is a more accurate measure of justice than the one-size-fits-all imposition of mandatory minimums.

Stranger Danger? Sexual Assault and Public Restrooms

March 9th, 2015

11034191_799415880126853_4043483562325079506_nA mother’s snapshot of a sign posted at a mall’s restrooms has generated a lot of heated discussion on the City Moms Blog Network Facebook page. Primarily, the response to this sign is that the mall has no business telling parents how to parent, and that most moms will take their young sons into the women’s restrooms with them as long as they feel that doing so is a necessary part of keeping their children safe. Most women who commented on the post feel that 6 is too young to go into the men’s room alone; however, the main issue they have is that the mall would impose a rule based on an arbitrary age and would not offer an acceptable alternative, such as a family restroom.

Some of those who did not feel that 6 was “too young” to go to the men’s room alone pointed out that dangers are everywhere, and we cannot possibly protect our children from every possible situation. Instead, we need to prepare our children to navigate difficult situations and foster their independence.

Neither the “too old” or the “too young” side is without merit. Yes, children may be at risk of assault in a public restroom. However, that risk is small, and children are much more likely to be sexually abused by a family member or someone they know than a stranger.

In 1998, nine-year-old Matthew Cecchi stepped into a public restroom just a few steps from his family’s campsite. While his aunt waited just outside the door of the men’s room, a 20-year-old man entered the restroom, slit the boy’s throat, and left. The aunt, wondering what was taking the boy so long, entered the restroom to find her nephew’s body.

In September 2013 in Oklahoma City, an 8-year-old girl walked into a gas station restroom to discover a nearly-naked man waiting inside. He locked her inside and attempted to strangle her with a coat before her parents were able to get the door unlocked.

In January 2014, a man entered the women’s restroom at a Denny’s restaurant and sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl as she stepped out of the stall.

Last fall, a man followed a 7-year-old girl into the women’s restroom at park, where he sexually assaulted her.

Obviously, there are reasons to fear letting a child go into a public restroom unattended. Statistically, though, these risks are very small. According to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead (raccfm.com), 93 percent of child sexual assault victims know their abuser. More than one-third of the abusers (34.2 percent) are family members, and only 7 percent are strangers.

For more information about child sexual abuse, including how to protect your child and what to do if your child says he or she is being molested, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

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PHILLIPS & ASSOCIATES Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorneys