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Losing A Homicide Case


Ardmore Police got a call about a death by gunfire at a tavern east of town.

Police officers arrived and found a man lying dead behind the bar of the tavern. They determined that a man who had leased the bar, a gentleman named Robert Quiroz who was from California, had been the shooter. They arrested him and brought him to the City jail. Detectives tried to question him but he couldn’t speak English, so they give up.

I got a police report the next day and summoned the arresting officers to my office. Something just seemed not right to me.

They told me that most, if not all of the bar’s patrons that night were very intoxicated, so they didn’t list any of them as witnesses. I thought that was sloppy police work but I let it slide.

I filed Murder charges against the defendant and the Magistrate ordered him held without bail.

I couldn’t determine a motive for the shooting of the man behind the bar. I knew the deceased, who was a very violent man. In fact, I had sent him to prison for an aggravated assault involving a knife.

Then, I got an anonymous phone call. The caller wouldn’t tell me her name, fearing her husband would discover where she was that night.

This is what she said: “D.A., the guy who got killed was chasing the bartender with a large knife. The bartender backed up until his back was against the wall, and then he started shooting.” She then hung up the receiver.

I called one of the detectives I knew and verified that the bar was closed. I asked him to get in and see if there was a knife behind the bar, and if so, to dust it for fingerprints.

He called me within an hour. “I got in and found a large knife, D.A., right behind the bar. I compared the prints with the dead guy at the morgue and they match.”

The defendant hired a well known defense lawyer and I expected him to raise the knife defense but he didn’t.

Jury trial loomed and I was not sure what to do. I knew that the Oklahoma Bar association prohibited prosecutors from aiding a defendant in a criminal case and I sure didn’t want that. Finally, I got it: I filed a notice in the case listing my witnesses and adding: “One large hunting knife.”

That did it. When all the evidence was presented, the jury spent little time acquitting the defendant because of the knife the detective found behind the bar.

I felt good about the outcome. After the verdict, I shook the defendant’s hand and wished him well. He went back to California the next day.
-james a. clark