McALESTER — The attorney who represented child rapist David Harold Earls said the embattled district attorney tried to get Earls to accept a plea agreement with a harsher sentence than just one year. "They had pushed for a longer sentence. And up until the last few days before the trial, there were discussions between the DA’s office and myself for different lengths of time,” said Tim Mills, who was assigned to the Earls case. "I’m not going into the details of any negotiations between the DA’s office and myself. But I can tell you anything above and beyond what was settled for and what Mr. Earls pled to, Mr. Earls had rejected, and we would have gone to trial.” The day the trial was scheduled to begin, Mills and representatives of Pittsburg County District Attorney J.B. Miller agreed on one year in jail and 19 years suspended for Earls’ rape of a 4-year-old girl. Judge Thomas Bartheld accepted the recommendation May 13 and set off a firestorm over the 64-year-old prior felon.
Investigation into caseMore than a month into the controversy, the case has ignited personal threats, bomb threats, additional molestation accusations by Earls’ relatives and a recent comment from Fox television show correspondent Geraldo Rivera that "I will not weep if something happens to David Earls.” Mills said it’s unlikely two legislators, state Reps. Mike Reynolds and Mike Ritze, will be able to change the case, despite their letter asking the state Supreme Court to get involved. He said likewise for Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s investigation into the issue, which he suspects involves seeing whether the district attorney could have charged Earls with something else. "That would likely be the position of any defense attorney. It’s his duty to defend his client,” Charlie Price, Edmondson’s spokesman, said in a statement. "Our duty in this case is twofold, and we are looking into the situation from both a factual standpoint and a legal one. "Our investigators are following up on information we have received, and our attorneys are reviewing all legal authorities. It is too early to predict where this inquiry will lead us.”
Girl’s testimony was key to decisionMills said the plea bargain was fair based on the evidence, testimony and the strength of the district attorney’s case. "I think it was probably the only choice the DA’s office had, unless the little girl just knocked our socks off in doing a fantastic job in testifying, and that was always the concern in the back of my mind. What if? What if she pulls through and does a real bang-up job, and then he’d probably be looking at life in prison. That was unlikely to happen because there were so many questions on both sides of the table,” Mills said. "The reality was we could have taken this thing to trial, and if the DA’s case falls apart because of lack of testimony and corroborating evidence, then this guy walks. We get an acquittal, and he walks,” Mills said. District attorney Miller said recently, "I much prefer to get a sex offender convicted rather than see a sex offender walk off scot-free.”
Deteriorating health also played a big partEarls’ medical condition played into the plea bargain. Mills said the condition is apparently lung cancer, which he understands has left Earls without one lung and half of another one. Taxpayers are paying about $350 per year for Earls’ medication while he’s serving time on rape charges, according to Pittsburg County jail Administrator Missi Eldridge. Additional charges for his care, including four daily breathing treatments, are going to the federal Medicare program. Earls is one of 35 to 40 jail inmates who are served by a full-time nurse, but Eldridge said all those charges can’t be broken out. Earls also has to pay $1,000 in court costs, $1,000 to the victims compensation assessment and the cost of incarceration, under the ruling. The $44 per day incarceration fee will reach roughly $16,000 by the time he is scheduled to be freed on Sept. 24. After release, new parolees make arrangements to make monthly payments for court and jail fees. Mills said he doesn’t think legislators can do anything to the judge. He said Judge Bartheld did everything right. "What would they have him do if he rejects the plea, and it goes to trial, and he’s acquitted? Would they be all over him because he rejected the plea offer?” Mills asked. Reynolds said, "I expect that attorney is representing the interests of his client and not the best interests of a 4-year-old rape victim when he makes a statement like that.” Mills said Reynolds and Ritze can introduce a bill to change procedures.
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