The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Man Charged in Fireworks Stand Shooting Death

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Tulsa man who shot at suspects burglarizing his fireworks stand has been charged with first degree manslaughter after one of the suspects, a 15-year-oldboy, died in the shooting.

Johnny Mize, Jr., was working at his father's fireworks stand on Independence Day when he reportedly saw two people in a green pickup truck stealing fireworksand loading them into their vehicle. Mize says he jumped over the counter and raised a gun to frighten the two thieves.

At that point, says Mize, he heard a "pop" and believed that the suspects shot at him. He returned fire, but told investigators he wasn't sure what heit or if he even hit anything at all.

Mize then jumped into the bed of the pickup, and he claims the driver swerved in an attempt to throw him from the vehicle. He then shot out one of thevehicles tires, and the driver fled the scene on foot. A relative came to pick up Mize and the stolen fireworks. The second robbery suspect was founddead in the passenger seat of the pickup.

Police identified the slain suspect as 15-year-old Jake Ulrich, and they identified his cousin, 27-year-old Jack Ulrich, as the second suspect. Two daysafter the killing, Jack Ulrich turned himself in to authorities and was questioned and released. Ulrich told police that he was unarmed at thetime of the robbery.

Whereas many people expected the elder Ulrich to be charged with first degree murder for the death that occurred during an armed robbery, he was insteadcharged only with misdemeanor theft.

Instead, the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office charged Mize with first degree manslaughter. According to prosecutors, the man "took it too far" in attempting to defend against theft.

Mize's attorneys say they are shocked by the District Attorney's decision to charge their client with manslaughter at all, much less charge him with amore serious crime than that filed against the actual robber. Although state law does not allow a felony murder charge to be filed when a death occursin the commission of a misdemeanor (theft, as opposed to armed robbery), it would allow a manslaughter charge. Surprisingly, the Tulsa County DA chosenot to file such a charge.

The attorneys for Mize call the Tulsa County DA's Office "anti-second amendment," referring to their handling of this case and the way the Office handledthe case of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby in filing charges prior to the completion of an investigation.

Oklahoma law defines first degree manslaughter in 21 O.S. � 711:

Homicide is manslaughter in the first degree in the following cases:

1. When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.

2. When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.

3. When perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.

Prosecutors are basing their manslaughter charge against Mize on the theory that he acted under item 2 or item 3: either in a heat of passion or unnecessarilyin an attempt to prevent theft. Defense attorneys say the case was clear self defense in the face of an armed robbery.

It seems odd that the District Attorney's Office would completely ignore item 1: a homicide that occurs during the commission of a misdemeanor. Thisleaves an adult man who takes his young cousin to rob a fireworks stand, resulting in the death of a 15-year-old boy, facing only the possibilityof up to one year in county jail for petty larceny.

The man who defended against what he allegedly believed to be an armed robbery faces a minimum of four years in prison.

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