The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Family Urges Commutation for Tulsa Reserve Deputy Convicted of Manslaughter

Posted: Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Former Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, 75, was convicted last April of manslaughter, after he mistakenly pulled the trigger of his gun instead of his taser and shot and killed a fleeing suspect. Bates's arrest and conviction highlighted numerous problems with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office reserve program and exposed an alleged "pay to play" system that rewarded wealthy contributors by making them reserve officers--even if they were improperly trained and ill-equipped for the job.

Now the former reserve deputy's family is asking the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to commute Bates's 4-year sentence, saying, among other things, Bates is not likely to survive in prison given his age, health problems, and conditions of his incarceration.

In their petitions, family members say that Bates has been the subject of at least one assassination attempt. They also say that he is confined to his cell for 23 hours per day. 

Of the alleged assassination attempt, Bates wrote that "a group of violent inmates attempted to kick down my cell door.” Bates's daughter, Leslie McCrary, reiterated the claim, saying her father was "attacked by several inmates."

She asked Judge William Musseman for a judicial review of her father's sentence, saying, "I worry that he will not be capable of returning to any conceivable normal life, or worse, will die in prison considering his health, age and the conditions of his confinement."

The Department of Corrections disputes the claims, saying that there is no incident report regarding the alleged attack, because it never happened. They also say that Bates is not on "23/7 lockdown" as his daughter suggests, but is rather a Level 4 prisoner who is allowed time in the yard and who is allowed to take classes. Bates's own words seem to refute the lockdown claim, as he writes that he is trying to offer his fellow prisoners "advice and support" for re-integration and is even teaching another inmate to read. 

The parole board has twice rejected Bates's requests for clemency: once in November and once again in February. They note that commutation is not intended to be an "early release mechanism," but rather intended to rectify an unjust sentence.  Upon conviction of second degree manslaughter, Bates faced a maximum of 4 years in prison--the amount to which he was ultimately sentenced.

His case is under appeal.

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