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Student murder trial moved to January 2014

It has been two years since freshman Carissa Horton, 18, and her boyfriend, Ethan Nichols, 21, were killed nine miles from ORU’s campus on Sept. 18, 2011, in Hicks Park.

Police arrested and charged Jerard Davis, 23, and Darren Price, 21, with two counts of first-degree murder by Sept. 20, two days after the murders.

Prosecutors announced they are seeking the death penalty in March 2012 arraignment hearings.

Court documents from a Jan. 10, 2012, preliminary hearing reveal both men admit to being in Hicks Park the night of the double-homicide shooting.

Neither has admitted to pulling the trigger. Based on this conflicting evidence, the two await separate trials.

Twenty-four months after the arrests and several litigation postponements, neither defendant has gone to trial.

But these delays are not unusual in death penalty cases, according to Tulsa District Attorney Tim Harris.

Harris, a 1983 graduate of ORU’s former law school, has served as Tulsa’s distict attorney for 14 years.

“It shouldn’t take this long, but it has, and it’s not odd for death penalty cases to take this long,” Harris said in a Sept. 30 phone interview. “We try to get them accomplished in less time than this, but for lots of different reasons, it has taken this long.”

Jail informant issues are the cause for the most recent delay in Davis’ jury trial. Tulsa County District Judge Bill Musseman reset his trial for Jan. 27.

Harris said the postponement came after prosecutors informed the defense of their intent to use a jailhouse informant as a prospective witness.

Oklahoma law mandates the defense must be informed about such a witness 10 days before trial.

In early September, Davis’ attorneys requested additional time to investigate the informant’s criminal background.

Defense attorneys will look into whether the inmate has talked to police and been used in prosecution before or received any benefits for doing so, Harris said. He describes the witness as a “career criminal.”

Harris did not object to the additional delay.

“We want to make sure no stone goes unturned with the things we have to put [the defense] on notice about,” Harris said. “I don’t want any error in the record where we’re seeking the most serious punishment we can seek, which is death.”

Price’s jury trial is scheduled for Nov. 4.

Students who knew Horton remember her as an 18-year-old freshman with a peaceful demeanor and love for singing.

“There’s still not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her and the impact she had on our floor,” said senior Jessica Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was Horton’s resident advisor.

Both Horton and Nichols moved from Keokuk, Iowa, to Tulsa and began dating when the freshman started her studies at ORU.

On the night of Sept. 18, the couple was walking in Hicks Park when two males confronted them.

The pair then forced Horton and Nichols on their knees and shot them execution style.

Their bodies were found by a woman and man walking their dogs in the park the next morning, according to police reports.

Though Harris is seeking the death penalty, the 12 Tulsa residents serving on the jury in each trial will ultimately decide the punishment for the crime, he said.

There are currently 12 Oklahoma prisoners on death row convicted of crimes in Tulsa County.

Of those 12, two cases took six to nine years from the date of the crime to the date of conviction, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

The remaining 10 took an average of 22 months to be convicted, making Davis’ and Price’s case about two months longer than the current Tulsa County average.

Though the delays in getting the defense to trial are normal, Harris said the drawn-out timeframe is not ideal.

“My heart really goes out to the family,” Harris said. “This is a long time for them to heal, and after they get through that healing process and deal with their grief of losing their loved one under tragic and violent means, the trial just reopens that wound.”

 

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