The murder trial for the pharmacist who fatally shot a robber was postponed Monday until next year.
The jury trial for Jerome Jay Ersland was to begin Dec. 6. Instead, the trial judge has scheduled a hearing for that day on a defense motion for him to step down from the case. Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott did not reschedule the trial.
Defense attorneys want Elliott off the case because they allege he cannot be fair.
On Friday, they alleged he has made repeated racial slurs against Hispanics. They contend that calls into question his overall impartiality.
The pharmacist is not Hispanic.
They also contend Elliott gets legal research from his wife, an assistant district attorney.
Prosecutors on Monday in effect called lead attorney Irven Box a liar.
They pointed out Box on Nov. 1 agreed to let the judge decide the punishment for a Hispanic client, a drug trafficker.
They contended, â€œThe inescapable conclusion is ... despite his claims to the contrary, he himself does not believe this court to be prejudiced against Hispanic defendants.â€
â€œNo competent lawyer would throw his Hispanic client upon the mercy of a judge whom he believes to be so racially biased against Hispanics as to warrant his recusal,â€ prosecutors wrote in a legal
Prosecutors further noted the pharmacist's four attorneys have not asked the judge to step down in any of the other 30 cases they have pending before Elliott.
Box said he and Ersland's other attorneys will be asking the judge to step down from all of their cases, including the drug trafficker who already pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Box said they didn't earlier because â€œwe didn't have all our ducks in a row.â€
DA calls claims â€˜a joke'
District Attorney David Prater said defense attorneys are making up accusations only to get the trial delayed.
â€œIt's a joke,â€ Prater said. â€œIt hurts the justice system, period. It makes people outside of this courthouse wonder what in the world is going on. â€¦ How many times can Irven Box say someone's a racist? Me, the judge, who's next? â€¦ It's ridiculous. It just is really to inflame this whole process.â€
Prater said attorneys, judges and community leaders â€œfrom all ethnic groupsâ€ have contacted him to volunteer to defend the judge. â€œThere's no one in this courthouse who believes you are a racist,â€ Prater told Elliott.
In their legal response, prosecutors argued the U.S. Supreme Court and other appeals courts have established that judges cannot be disqualified just because they are opinionated. They gave several examples including a case where a black judge trying a racial discrimination lawsuit had criticized the Supreme Court for being too hesitant to make civil rights changes.
Prosecutors also argued the judge's wife, Sandra Elliott, only sent the judge a copy of a legal ruling about television cameras in the courtroom. They said that was entirely proper.
Ersland, 59, was charged with first-degree murder after he shot a masked robber six times in May 2009 inside the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City. Killed was Antwun â€œSpeedyâ€ Parker, 16, of Oklahoma City.
Ersland, who lives in Chickasha, has said he acted to defend himself and two female employees. Prosecutors say he went too far when he fired the last five shots, in effect executing an unconscious, unarmed robber who was no longer a threat.
Defense attorneys plan to ask Oklahoma County's chief judge to remove Elliott if he refuses to step down.