There is likely only a thin line between a life sentence and life without parole for a 43-year-old convicted killer, but it was the last straw for Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
Prater was not pleased Tuesday after District Judge Kenneth Watson opted to change Billy Earl Parker's sentence to life in prison. Life without parole had been imposed by the jury that convicted Parker of murder in February 2007.
"Modifying this sentence from life without parole to life is an absolute miscarriage of justice,” Prater said. "The judge has now circumvented the jury process.”
Watson maintained the move was the right thing to do in Parker's case.
He noted prosecutors had offered Parker a plea deal calling for a 25-year sentence and a key witness at his trial was unavailable, so her testimony was read from a transcript.
The sentence change may not make much difference for Parker, who must serve 85 percent of his sentence — about 38 years. If he lives long enough, he'll be about 81 years old when he's eligible for parole.
DA says judge ignores law
Prater said he is usually reluctant to criticize judges, but Watson has consistently refused to follow the law.
He cited another case where Watson disregarded a jury verdict and several instances where he refused to allow prosecutors to introduce evidence or reject would-be jurors as allowed by law.
Prater said Watson's decision Tuesday undermines the community's faith in the justice system because he has positioned himself — not a jury — as the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes justice in Oklahoma County.