Teen Charged in Murder of Australian Baseball Player Turns Witness

Stephens County Special Judge Jerry Herberger delayed the conclusion of a preliminary hearing for two Duncan teens accused of murdering a jogger, but not before a third teen accused in the case offered some startling testimony as a prosecution witness. James Francis Edwards, Chauncey Allen Luna, and Michael Dewayne Jones were 15, 16, and 17 years old when they were implicated in the shooting death of Chris Lane, a 22-year-old Australian national attending East Central University in Ada on a baseball scholarship. Lane, who was visiting his girlfriend in Duncan, was shot at random while jogging on August 16. Initially, Edwards and Luna were charged with first degree murder and Jones was charged with being an accessory to murder. In November, charges against Jones were upgraded to first degree murder. Now, the charges have been amended for Edwards as well. In exchange for his testimony against his two friends, the first degree murder charge against Edwards has been dropped, and he is now charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact. The accessory charge is a result of Edwards allegedly calling a friend from the Stephens County Jail in an attempt to have the friend ensure that the murder weapon was hidden. Edwards's testimony at the preliminary hearing yesterday shocked many. Early reports say that Lane's death was a "thrill kill" perpetrated by three teens with no motive other than boredom. However, Edwards says that his friends never meant to kill anyone. According to his testimony, Edwards did not know there was even a gun in the car. He says he was in the front passenger seat rolling a joint and not paying attention to what the other two were doing when Jones, the driver of the vehicle, suddenly swerved toward Lane, and Luna fired. He says that he saw the jogger clutch his side and then looked at his two companions. Edwards testified that they looked "cold and shocked." After the shooting, says Edwards, the teens drove to a nearby restaurant to try to hide the gun under the hood of the car. According to Edwards, Luna said, "I thought there was supposed to be blanks in the gun." Jones allegedly replied, "Me, too. Sorry." If Edwards's testimony proves to be true, it would be difficult for prosecutors to make a first degree murder charge stick, as a belief that blanks were in the gun would destroy evidence of "malice aforethought," or premeditation, as well as intent. Some of Edwards's testimony might be hard to swallow. He says that he did not know there was a gun in the car, but admits that he was present when the three shot and killed a donkey on a nearby farm earlier in the day. This also may invalidate his claim that the other two boys thought there were blanks in the murder weapon. Furthermore, his testimony that the shooting was unintentional directly contradicts Jones's own statements shortly after the murder. Jones allegedly told police that they targeted Lane at random because they were "bored" and "just wanted to shoot someone." If, however, Edwards's statements are to be believed, charges against Luna and Jones could be amended to second degree murder or first degree manslaughter. After another teen witness in the case requested an attorney, the Special Judge presiding over the case delayed the continuation of the preliminary hearing until March. In May, a judge will determine whether Edwards is tried as a juvenile or a youthful offender on the accessory charge.

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