LOGAN COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Criminal justice reform is a hot topic in Oklahoma after voters approved changes to state law to reduce sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
In recent months, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has recommended the commutations of hundreds of sentences for non-violent drug offenders in order to combat prison overcrowding.
However, one district attorney is speaking out about a recent recommendation.
Larry Lawton was convicted by a Logan County jury in 2012 of trafficking crack cocaine, possessing drugs with intent to distribute, acquiring proceeds from drug activity, and possession of drugs without a tax stamp.
At the time of the trial, Thomas says that Lawton had three prior convictions for drug trafficking and two prior convictions for possession of drugs with intent to distribute.
He was sentenced to life without parole.
Recently, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board commuted his sentence from life without parole to 20 years in prison.
That decision has sparked outrage at the Logan County District Attorney’s Office.
“39.7 grams of rock cocaine would yield approximately 198 doses, with a street value between $3,900 and $8,000, depending upon the customer base. Lawton was found with that amount in a hotel room after citizens notified police about the high traffic going into and out of the room. Experienced narcotic officers will tell you that crack cocaine is highly addictive. This Defendant was in possession of over $2,100 in small denominations in addition to the drugs which indicates how many doses he had sold prior to the police intervention. A rock would cost around $20. The high is very intense and cheap. However; the high does not last long possibly 15 minutes. Every time you smoke it, you build immunity to the drug causing you to have to smoke more to get the same high. Serious crack users will get up and immediately start looking for a way to get $20, find it, buy a rock, get high and immediately start looking for the next $20. This represented dozens and dozens of crimes already committed and anticipated to be committed in our community. It represented dozens and dozens of victims, the motivation for other violent crimes, property crimes, sex trafficking crimes (when police entered the room a user was found under the bedsheets apparently giving her body away to get her rock) and the loss of security for our neighborhoods. That number of customers also represented dozens of new addicts that will repeat the above cycles over and over again growing more community insecurity and devastating families and individuals,” said Logan County District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas in a statement.
Thomas also spoke about Lawton’s behavior after the verdict was read. She says that Lawton attacked his own attorney and threw an object at the prosecutor’s table. Ultimately, Lawton was tased and removed from the courtroom.
“This man’s behavior in and out of the courtroom has shown contempt for the judge, the community and its laws. That is not fixable behavior. Even the presentence report prepared for the trial judge before the sentence was formalized stated, ‘These offenses appear to be indicative of a persistent pattern of criminal behavior and he will endanger the safety and lives of others,’” she said.
Thomas says she believes commuting his sentence was rewarding a person who hadn’t ever admitted their wrongdoing.
“It’s called positive reinforcement of negative behavior. The commutation is a slap in the face and disrespectful to the citizens of Guthrie who alerted the police to the blatant criminal activity happening in front of them, to law enforcement who worked so hard to remove this trafficker from the community, to the judge and jury who actually heard the evidence and made decisions, to the Court of Criminal Appeals who heard his appeal and found nothing improper in the trial proceedings and the verdicts, and to our case agents, Assistant District Attorneys and defense attorneys who were threatened and assaulted by this defendant in open court.”
Under the recommendation, the district attorney said Lawton would be eligible for parole in April of 2020.