(Reuters) - One of two white Oklahoma men charged with murder and hate crimes over accusations of shooting dead three black people and wounding two said in an interview from jail on Saturday that he felt no hatred or ill-will toward African-Americans.
Prosecutors brought murder and hate crime charges on Friday against 19-year-old Jake England, who was arrested with Alvin Watts, 33. They are accused of killing two men and a woman and wounding two men in the shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this month.
England’s attorney, Clark Brewster, released a seven-minute jailhouse interview with his client on Saturday that was posted online by Tulsa NewsOn6.com.
Dressed in black-and-white striped prison garb, England said he counted African-Americans among his best friends and denied feeling any hatred or ill-will toward blacks.
“No I don‘t. Because the line of work that I was in and the place I lived, we always had to get along with everybody. It didn’t matter what color you was,” he said.
The Tulsa killings followed the shooting death of unarmed black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer who is white and Hispanic, a case that has captured national attention largely because of race.
Police have described the Tulsa shootings as random because England and Watts did not know their victims. A witness to one shooting said the gunman simply pulled his pickup truck to the side of the street and asked for directions before opening fire.
Shortly before the killings, England had lamented on his Facebook page that two years had passed since his father was killed by a black man, to whom he referred with a racial slur.
Speaking in a deep voice in the jailhouse interview, England described how he saw his father shot to death as he attempted to protect his sister and her two young children, aged 3 and 4, from a man who tried to break into their apartment.
He also explained how his girlfriend, with whom he had an infant son, shot herself in the head in January when she was standing “about two feet away” from him.
The Tulsa shooting suspects were arrested on April 8 after multiple anonymous telephone tips. They are being held on more than $9 million bond each and have yet to enter pleas.
Conviction on murder charges in Oklahoma could result in a death sentence, so the misdemeanor hate-crime charge could have little bearing on the penalty.
Police said three men and a woman were shot within a mile of each other in north Tulsa. The body of a fifth victim was discovered outside a nearby funeral home in the predominantly black part of the city.
England and Watts have confessed, a police spokesman told The New York Times. England admitted to police he shot three of the victims, and Watts shot two others, the report said.
Those killed were identified as Dannaer Fields, Bobby Clark, and William Allen, who were all shot in the chest. The two suspects were also charged with shooting with intent to kill Deon Tucker, who was wounded in the shoulder, and David Hall, who was wounded in the stomach.
Both England and Watts were described in the charging document as white, though England has been described as at least part Native American.
Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham