An Oklahoma City teen accused of setting a fire that caused the deaths of an elderly couple was convicted last week in Oklahoma County District Court. Tristan Owen, 17, was 15 when he was accused of starting a fire outside the couple's home, and he was charged with first degree arson and two counts of first degree murder in the case. District Judge Kenneth C. Watson advised jurors that they could consider lesser charges of first degree manslaughter and third degree arson if the prosecution failed to adequately prove the more serious charges beyond a reasonable doubt. After deliberating for more than five hours, a jury became deadlocked, but reached the verdict after Judge Watson encouraged them to keep deliberating. Eventually, the jury found Owen guilty of first degree arson and first degree manslaughter.
If Owen had been convicted of the first degree murder counts, he would have been sentenced as an adult and faced up to life in prison. Instead, the jury was unable to convict Owen on the more serious charge, and they recommended a sentence of ten years in prison for the arson conviction and four years in prison for each manslaughter conviction.
The teen's Oklahoma violent crime lawyer said he was surprised by the verdict, saying that he thought they were "in the running for an acquittal." He pointed to the inability of arson investigators to link items found on Owen's property--burned pajama pants
and the remains of two Molotov cocktails--with the fire at the home of Boyd and Doris Haynes, the 87 and 86-year-old victims.
The assistant district attorney prosecuting the case called the verdict a "compromise verdict," saying she believed the age of the defendant to be a significant factor in the case.
A jury may find a defendant guilty of a "lesser included offense" even if they are unable to find him or her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime with which he or she is charged. A lesser included offense is one which is encompassed by the greater crime. Both the greater crime and the lesser included offense share many characteristics, and the greater crime could not be committed without also committing the lesser crime. A prosecutor may not be able to prove all of the elements of the greater offense, but may be able to provide sufficient evidence that the defendant created the lesser offense. For example, a jury may find a defendant guilty of manslaughter instead of murder, sexual battery instead of rape, or breaking and entering instead of burglary.
Often, a defense attorney may be able to negotiate a plea to a lesser charge before a case goes to trial. A plea bargain often is a plea to the lesser included offense in an effort to avoid a jury trial and the possibility of conviction of a more serious offense. A plea agreement may result in lighter sentencing than what would be associated with conviction at trial.
Every case is unique. Sometimes a trial is the best choice for proving innocence; other times, a plea bargain may bring the best outcome. Consulting an attorney and obtaining skillful legal counsel is imperative to making the right decisions for your unique case. To find out how our attorneys may be able to help you, submit the confidential case review form available at Oklahoma-Criminal-Defense.com.